FARGO -- There are very few ivy-covered buildings amid the Urban Plains neighborhood of southwest Fargo. The unpredictable currents and many twists in the Red River of the North mean it is exceedingly rare to see rowing teams practicing there. And although countless folks on both sides of the Minnesota-North Dakota border have Facebook accounts, the social media platform was invented elsewhere.
Welcome to the contrasts of Ryan Siedem’s world. He is a second-year student at Harvard University, taking classes remotely due to the pandemic, like so many other students of all ages around the globe. He has a year of college hockey experience under his belt, and is on the ice each day, prepping for the coming hockey season. But when he looks out the window, he sees not the banks of the Charles River, and the Boston skyline in the distance, but the flatlands of the Red River Valley.
Practicing with the Fargo Force of the USHL is not totally new territory, hockey-wise, for Siedem, 19, who hails from the far-flung New Jersey suburbs of New York City. He played a season for the now-defunct Central Illinois Flying Aces in the 2018-19 season before enrolling at Harvard. Like so many other aspects of American life, all was going fine until March, when the pandemic hit, and college hockey came to an abrupt halt.
Needing a place to play
Over the summer, the Ivy League declared that there will be no team competitions until Jan. 1 at the earliest, meaning that hockey season for teams like Harvard, Cornell, Yale and Dartmouth was thrown into doubt. Siedem was one of a few Crimson players that still had a year of USHL eligibility remaining, and began exploring his options for 2020-21. The Force owned his rights, and offered Siedem a spot on their blue line.
“I went to college pretty young, so I was one of the guys on my Harvard team that had the opportunity to go back and play in the USHL this year,” said Siedem, who is one of three players who were Harvard freshmen last season and are back playing in the USHL for now. “It was a no-brainer for me because we really don’t know what’s going to happen with our season in the Ivy League and if Harvard will let us play. I really wanted to play this year, and there’s no better spot than hare, so I got really lucky.”
The Force also look at Siedem’s availability as a silver lining amid all of the dark clouds during the pandemic, and plan to have him playing a role on their defensive corps when the USHL season starts in early November. Both coach and player have an understanding that Siedem is likely to return to college hockey if and when the Ivy League and the ECAC Hockey league give the green light to begin practicing and playing again.
“Right now the situation is very open-ended,” Force coach Pierre-Paul Lamoureux said. “We’ve had some very honest conversations with Ryan through the summer about what kind of player we think he is, how he could help us and how he could grow and develop in Fargo. At a later point we’ll have a conversation about what his plans are for the second half.”
Siedem and his mother Ellis -- a former lacrosse captain at Colgate -- traveled to Fargo in the middle of September, and he settled in with a billet family. In addition to practices and other team activities with the Force, he is taking on-line classes from Harvard, working toward a psychology major. Siedem said the team has been great about allowing him time for schoolwork, but admits remote schooling from the nation’s most highly-renowned university can be challenging.
“It’s annoying at times and a hassle, because it’s definitely tougher to learn on-line than in person, but it’s been manageable,” Siedem said.
Winter is coming
The Red River Valley is a far different place than New Jersey or Massachusetts. But like so many others, Siedem has found the people of Fargo-Moorhead to be welcoming and friendly, even if he has some trepidation about his first North Dakota winter.
“The people here are really nice, and I like the land,” Siedem said. “But I’m really not looking forward to it getting really cold, so I’ll have to deal with that yet.”