FARGO — Just like many other children, when Mason Salquist was a kid, he needed to be tucked in before he would go to sleep at night. But unlike most other kids, instead of being tucked snugly under his blankets, he needed to have his feet tucked into his ice skates.
Salquist was too young to remember this himself, but his parents told him that when he was a kid, he absolutely refused to go to bed without his skates on. He would climb up to the top bunk, above his older brother Gage, and make his parents help him tie up his skates. Only once the skates were on and secure, was he ready to call it a night.
His parents would then have to wait around for him to fall asleep so they could then go back into his room and untie his skates and take them off.
“I’ve always been in love with the game,” said Salquist, now a forward in his third year with the Fargo Force. “I’ve always been around it. It was nice growing up in Grand Forks with it being such a big hockey town.”
Salquist is just as in love with the game now as he was as a child. The Force finished up practice in the early afternoon on Wednesday, giving him a free night to relax. His plans? He figured he’d probably watch the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs on TV.
That dedication to the sport is what got the 5-foot-9 forward where he is now: in the USHL Clark Cup Finals and committed to play Division I hockey at St. Cloud State.
The Force are tied 1-1 with the Chicago Steel in the best-of-five Clark Cup Finals, with Games 3 and 4 coming up Friday and Saturday at Scheels Arena. The Force won Game 1 3-0 and the Steel took Game 2 4-1.
“It’s always a dream to win a championship at whatever level you’re playing at,” he said. “It’s always a team goal that everyone is working hard toward to try to achieve. This being my third year here, it’s a real honor to wear this sweater in my home state. It’s a lot of fun competing for a championship.”
The road here wasn’t always easy, but he never gave up. Salquist was excited to be drafted by the Force in his futures draft in 2016 and get a chance to stay close to home. He went to the preseason camp three times and was cut each time.
After being cut in 2018, he signed on to play his high school senior season with the Janesville Jets of the Tier II NAHL in Janesville, Wis. He played 24 games in Janesville before getting a call from the team that had cut him thrice over. The Force had a spot open for him and they wanted him to come back to North Dakota.
“I didn’t think I’d be in Fargo that year after getting cut from them,” Salquist said. “But getting called up and making a team that you got cut from really makes you feel good. And it shows that the work you put in really pays off.”
Salquist appeared in 12 games for Fargo in the 2018-19 season, tallying a goal and three assists. After proving he belonged in the USHL, he stayed on for the 2019-20 season and put up 15 goals and 12 assists in 46 games. The Force were playing their best hockey late in the season and in position to make a run into the playoffs. And then the COVID pandemic hit and everything came to a screeching halt. The season was over.
It wasn’t all a loss, though. Soon after that season finished and he’d gone back home to Grand Forks, he got an offer to play college hockey at St. Cloud State. Already familiar with the campus from trips to St. Cloud to watch his hometown team, the University of North Dakota, play the Huskies, he quickly accepted their offer.
"Being from Grand Forks growing up, I was always a UND fan," Salquist said. "When St. Cloud called me up, I thought, 'Why not play for a rival and go play in the Ralph in front of friends and family and be the away team? It’s going to be pretty cool. ... All my buddies will be there and hopefully if we beat them, I can talk (trash) to them a little bit.'"
With his college plans set, Salquist came back to the Force this season and had one more struggle to fight through. After starting the season on fire with five goals and seven assists in 14 games, the forward broke his tibia in a knee-on-knee collision on Dec. 29. He was sidelined for two months.
Missing that much time wasn’t easy for the kid who wouldn’t go to bed without his skates on.
“It’s always tough watching your team play and having to sit in the stands,” Salquist said. “I had to use my voice a little more, since I couldn’t play. I had to help people out through talking. I wanted to try to do my part and do whatever I could do at that time. My mindset was that whatever helps the team win is what I’m willing to do. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m in.”
Salquist finally returned to the ice on Feb. 27 and played in 20 regular-season games to close out the season and now seven games in the postseason. He said it was a little bit of a struggle to get his game back fully.
“It definitely feels good knowing that you’ve got a healthy recovery and you’re back at it feeling good,” he said. “When I got back out there, I was just trying to feel the puck a little better. Not touching a puck for a while, you’re a little rusty.”
Salquist has prior experience playing for championships in North Dakota. His Grand Forks Red River Roughriders won the state championship in 2016 when he was a sophomore. He scored two goals in the state championship game that year and won tournament MVP.
Five years later, he’s back in the championship, but he said this time is a little different. He’s an elder statesman and a leader on this team.
“(That Roughriders team and this year’s Force) are both great hockey teams,” Salquist said. “This one’s different because I’m an older player in the room. I’ve got to be a little more of a leader. Back when I won a state championship in high school, I was a young guy in the room. I was looking up to the older kids and following their footsteps.”