FARGO — The Fargo Force are rebounding just in time for a playoff push.
After a down stretch that saw them lose eight of their previous nine games since March 14, the Force have now strung together three straight wins. Fargo defeated Waterloo 5-1 in United States Hockey League play on Friday at Scheels Arena.
The Force (30-19-3) are in second place in the USHL Western Conference with two regular-season games remaining. They play two games at Sioux City next Friday and Saturday, April 23-24.
“We want to be playing our best hockey at this time of year,” Force coach Pierre-Paul Lamoureux said. “We went through a really tough stretch there with a bit of inconsistency. We had some games where we were playing well and not getting the bounces and not getting wins. A big message to our team was to stick with it and work together and not get frustrated — keep working for our chances and working for our bounces.”
Tristan Broz led the Force with two goals and two assists. He scored two power-play goals in the first period, assisted on one of their two second-period goals, and assisted on a third-period strike by Aaron Huglen.
The first goal came just 3 minutes, 42 seconds into the first on a give-and-go. He was near the boards on the right, passed to Monds in the circle and got the puck right back as he cut in and scored from a tight angle at the bottom of the circle. He scored again from nearly that same spot with 10:14 to go in the first after a cross-ice pass from Jack Peart.
Broz, a University of Minnesota commit, leads the Force with 19 goals and 51 points.
“Broz and his whole line — and up and down our lineup — we’ve been trying to find the right mix and chemistry,” Lamoureux said. “And between Broz, Huglen and Monds, they have a lot of chemistry, skill and poise. They’re dangerous if they have time and space.”
The Force took just eight seconds to add to their tally in the third period. Jake Braccini skated down a loose puck after the faceoff and scored from a tight angle on the left side to make it 3-0. The Black Hawks swapped goalies after that, bringing in Charlie Glockner to replace Jack Williams.
Despite the switch, Fargo doubled up less than two minutes later to make it 4-0 with a goal by Nick Strom with assists by Monds and Broz. Broz passed to Monds on the wing and Monds fired on goal. Broz then deflected the puck in front of the goal and Strom deflected it again to score it.
Force goalie Brennan Boynton missed out on a shutout by 2 minutes, 40 seconds as Jonah Copre scored from the right point to finally get Waterloo on the board late. Boynton stopped 22 shots less than a week removed from collapsing on the ice last Saturday.
“(Boynton) has been playing well,” Lamoureux said. “He’s been our backbone all year. He’s a really big part of our team. We’re glad to see him back. He made some really key saves in important points in the game. That’s what you need from your goalie.”
The Force and Tri-City both have 63 points atop the Western Conference standings. Fargo resides in second place with a 0.606 points percentage, behind the Tri-City Storm’s 0.670. The Storm are scheduled to play four more games.
Because the teams will finish the season with an unequal number of games played, the points percentage will be used to determine playoff seeding rather than the points system.
The playoff race in the West is coming down to four teams chasing after four playoff spots. The Omaha Lancers are in third at 0.570 with two games to go, and the Sioux City Musketeers are fourth at 0.570 with three games to go. The Des Moines Buccaneers are just outside the playoff positions at 0.553 with time to make up ground with four games remaining.
FIRST: 1, F, Broz (Monds, SIedem) 3:42 pp. 2, F, Broz (Peart, Siedem)
SECOND: 3, F, Braccini (unassisted) 0:08. 4, F, Strom (Broz, Monds) 1:57.
THIRD: 5, Huglen (Broz, Wong) 13:17 pp. 1, W, Copre (Wylie) 17:20 pp.
SAVES: F, Boynton 6-11-5—22; W, Williams 14-0-0—14, Glockner 0-9-7—16.