Force had a "wild ride" on way to Clark Cup Finals

Just 49 seconds. That's how close the Fargo Force came to winning the USHL title, eventually falling in five games to Green Bay in the Clark Cup Finals.

Fargo Force forward Chase Grant
Fargo Force forward Chase Grant felt the team came together after Corey Leivermann had a season-ending injury in the playoffs.Dave Wallis / The Forum

Just 49 seconds. That's how close the Fargo Force came to winning the USHL title, eventually falling in five games to Green Bay in the Clark Cup Finals.

The unforgettable championship series didn't go their way, but there were more ups than downs in the second hockey season of the Force's history.

"It's not as memorable as we would've liked it to be, but we were 49 seconds away," Force captain Chase Grant said. "But we're certainly proud of the job we did.

"We were so close, and we did something that maybe people didn't expect us to do."

Few expected the Force to make the Clark Cup Finals for the second year in a row, in only their second year of existence - especially after losing coach of the year Dean Blais to Nebraska-Omaha and goaltender of the year Mike Lee to St. Cloud State.


But a couple of good moves paved the way to an even better season than the first one.

The team brought in accomplished coach Steve Johnson to replace Blais.

Then Johnson traded for an unknown goaltender from the North American Hockey League named Ryan Massa, and it paid instant dividends.

"He was a big difference because he made us a more consistent team," Johnson said. "After we got him, things really turned around."

Less than 24 hours after his first glimpse of the Urban Plains Center, Massa recorded a shutout in his first game and launched Fargo to a 19-game streak without a regulation loss that lasted two months.

"It was definitely a wild ride," Massa said. "It was a strange team, strange arena, new coach. Whoa. I had no choice but to adjust quickly.

"I was confident I could perform, but it was up to me to show it."

Adding Massa to the mix of balanced scorers - Fargo had six players finish with 20 goals - and an improving defensive corps led to a 37-17-6 mark and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.


Last year, Fargo was 32-23-5 and the No. 3 seed from the West.

"At that point, when we went on that streak, our team switched its mindset," Johnson said. "We knew we had a good group."

After sweeping Sioux Falls in the first round of the playoffs, the Force downed Omaha in five games to advance to the Clark Cup Finals.

In the second game against Omaha, Corey Leivermann - the team's second-leading scorer in the regular season - was knocked out of the playoffs after a nasty hit from Omaha's C.J. Ludwig.

The Force rallied around their fallen teammate.

"When Corey went down (in Game 2), we all came together and made a run," Grant said. "This was a close group, and that just brought us even closer."

Fargo won the first two games of the Clark Cup Finals against Green Bay - both on the road - and held a 3-2 lead late in Game 3.

But Anders Lee scored for the Gamblers to tie it with just 49 seconds to play, and Green Bay went on to win in three overtimes.


The Gamblers also took the fourth and fifth games to earn the Clark Cup. They clinched the title in front of a crowd of 8,487 - the largest ever to watch a USHL game.

"We made a long run, and this was a great season even if we were disappointed with the final outcome," Massa said. "That experience in the playoffs is something none of us will forget.

"This was a memorable season, for sure."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kerry Collins at (701) 241-5548

What To Read Next
Get Local