Get our newsletters

Ice hockey: The force is with Churchville’s Drobot


“North Dakota athletics” conjures up one inevitable image to Bucks County sports fans.

But at Fargo’s Scheels Arena, eight miles south of Carson Wentz’s college football stadium, Churchville’s A.J. Drobot is carving his own athletic path.

Drobot captains the United States Hockey League’s Fargo Force. The USHL is the highest junior hockey league in the country. Drobot will attend the two-time national champion University of Maine on full scholarship next fall.

“When I was playing Triple-A hockey it was your mom and dad in the stands, and maybe a friend every once in a while,” Drobot commented on a Force team that averages 3,300 people a game. “Here, we do incredible with attendance. At first, it was a little nerve wracking based on how many eyes are on you. Now it’s the norm. It gets people excited to keep working on their game so they can keep being on that center stage.”

Drobot scored 14 goals and had 11 assists for last season’s Force, who won the Clarke Cup as USHL champions. Drobot had six points in Fargo’s 14 playoff games; he also won Fargo’s Community Service award.

“There were unfortunate injuries to other players and I ended up being part of that championship team,” he said. “It allowed me to step into their positions to mold my game to fit the way the Force coaches wanted us to play.”

Fargo had a small number of returnees and many castoffs. “We were a team of misfits,” Drobot smiled. Yet several of those castoffs were postseason heroes in a year that Drobot described as “storybook.”

Most elite athletes are developed through their high school or community. The Philadelphia Eagles’ Josh Adams starred at CB South while Oakland Athletic Lou Trivino pitched for Pennridge American Legion.

But elite hockey players are unique. They mostly develop in places like Fairbanks or Fargo on junior hockey teams. Numbers are dated, but the USHL reports 247 of their alumni are under NHL contracts.

Drobot started skating at 22 months old. He was arguably the best player in the Suburban High School Hockey League as a freshman, where he scored 39 goals and 23 assists in helping Council Rock South to the National Division title. He split time between CR South and the independent New Jersey Rockets. “I balanced the workload between them and South. South was a really cool experience since it was the first time I ever played for a school. Unfortunately,” Drobot said, “the travel gets very rigorous with Triple-A hockey so you have to give up your high school hockey.”

After averaging over a point per game in his Rocket career, Drobot had nothing left to prove in New Jersey. He was drafted by Sioux Falls of the USHL and although he did not make the team, he was selected by the Austin Bruins of the Tier II North American Hockey League.

Barely 16 years old, Drobot took the difficult but needed plunge and moved to Austin, Minn. – home to both the Spam Museum and the Bruins.

“I was dreading packing and having second thoughts,” Drobot admitted. “It was a big step to walk away from my life. But I was fortunate to have a really good billet family in Austin. And once you break the ice with your teammates, it’s like you’ve known them all of your life.”

Fargo selected Drobot in the eighth round of the 2017 USHL Draft after he compiled two strong seasons at Austin. Although Drobot thought he was “on the outside looking in,” he made the team.

The junior leagues are for players aged 16 to 20. They do not get paid, but receive education, equipment and a billet family, a critical piece of a young hockey player’s development.

Drobot’s game continues to evolve. “Obviously the speed is faster, the goalies are bigger and better, everybody is stronger. But the most challenging thing that I’ve found personally is in order to be successful in the Leagues as you grow up, you have to find consistency in your game,” he remarked. “You have to bring a quality to the team that is going to be helpful every night.

“Before going to Austin, I was a more offensive player. I’ve changed my role into being a more defensive minded forward where I play a good 200-foot game,” he continued. “I’ll win faceoffs. I’ll block shots for my teammates. I’ll do whatever is necessary to inspire my teammates.”

Just as importantly, the unique journey has matured Drobot the person. “I feel like Fargo is home to me. I felt like Austin was a home to me and I feel like Churchville is also home to me, just in a different way,” he observed. “It’s amazing the connection you can have with people who you think are different from you, just because you live far apart. In actuality, you are the same people with the same values and morals. I’m so fortunate for the people I’ve met, the teammates I’ve had and I’m excited about what the future holds too.”