FARGO — A week ago, the Fargo Force were 74 seconds away from elimination and now they’re on their way to the Clark Cup Finals.
The Force defeated Sioux City 3-0 in Game 2 of the USHL Western Conference Finals on Saturday at Scheels arena to claim their chance to play for the Clark Cup. They’ll face the Chicago Steel in the finals.
The Force trailed Tri-City by a goal with just over a minute to go in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals last weekend. They tied it up and went on to win in overtime. They’ve won four straight games since then, including the two-game conference finals sweep of a red-hot Sioux City team that had won 14 of its previous 15 games entering the series.
“This is what we’ve been working for all year — No. 1, the opportunity to compete in playoffs and No. 2, to compete for a championship,” Force coach Pierre-Paul Lamoureux said. “We started as one of eight teams at the beginning of the playoffs and now there’s only two teams standing — us and Chicago. I’m extremely proud of the resiliency and toughness and grit that our team has shown since the beginning of the playoffs.”
Lamoureux said he talked to the reserves that wouldn’t be in the lineup about waiting for their opportunity and being ready to seize it. It must have sunk in for backup goalie Andrew Miller.
With starter Brennan Boynton suspended after being involved in a fight in Game 1, the Force needed Miller’s best in Game 2. And they got it. The Minnesota State Mankato commit stopped everything he saw, posting a 34-save shutout.
“We shared a story about a player on our team in 2018 that was in and out of our lineup and he ended up scoring the game-winner in the Clark Cup Finals for us. You never know when that opportunity is going to come. Sure enough that happened. And Andrew Miller — we wouldn't be standing here if it wasn’t for him posting that shutout and he made some huge saves early for us. He was ready. He’s been a constant worker. He’s stayed ready, he’s stayed prepared, he’s stayed diligent. And when he got his chance, he was ready.”
The Force’s top line stayed hot in Game 2, contributing on all three goals. First-line left-winger Tristan Broz opened the scoring 5 minutes, 15 seconds into the second period with assists from Ryan Siedem and Jack Peart. Matthew Crasa, filling in on the first line for the suspended Cody Monds, scored early in the third with an assist from Jake Braccini. Jeremy Davidson scored an empty netter with two seconds to go with assists from Broz and first-line center Aaron Huglen.
Broz has three goals and six assists in the Force’s five playoff games, while Huglen has two goals and four assists. Monds had three goals and three assists in the first four playoff contests.
“Our top players are playing confident, they’re playing fast, they’re playing direct, they’re playing playoff hockey,” Lamoureux said. “Their hockey sense and their skill level is so good. They’re reading off each other very well and the biggest thing is they’re competing. They’re outworking and outcompeting their opponents on a consistent basis.”
Fargo is venturing into the unknown in the Clark Cup Finals, which begin next Friday, May 14 in Chicago. The USHL Western Conference and Eastern Conference teams did not play against each other at all this year as a COVID-19 precaution. So this will be the first time the Force or the Steel will get a look at each other and see how the conferences stack up.
Chicago won the Anderson Cup as the regular-season champions with a 38-11-3-2 record. This is their third appearance in the finals in the last five years and won in 2017. The Force made the finals in 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2018 and won in 2018.
“It’s an absolute unknown,” Lamoureux said. “We’ll get to work on them early this week and find out as much as we can about them before we head into the series. It’s a phenomenal program, they won the Anderson Cup for a reason. It’s a highly-skilled, highly-offensive team. They’re going to be a tough opponent.”
FIRST: No scoring.
SECOND: 1, F, Broz (Siedem, Peart) 5:15.
THIRD: 2, F, Crasa (Braccini) 2:59. 3, F, Davidson (Broz, Huglen) 19:58.
SAVES: F, Miller 15-7-12—34; SC, Schmid 17-6-6—29