FARGO — After the fourth and what turned out to be the final game of the United States Hockey League Clark Cup Finals, Fargo Force coach Pierre-Paul Lamoureux had a message for his team.
“Sometimes you’re going to put your heart and soul into it and you’re going to try your hardest and sometimes you’re not going to accomplish the goal you set out to accomplish,” Lamoureux said.
The Force came up short of their ultimate goal of winning the Clark Cup, losing the deciding game of the best-of-five championship series 3-1 on Saturday at Scheels Arena. The Steel won the series 3-1, winning three straight after the Force won Game 1. It is Chicago’s second Clark Cup win, the other coming in 2017.
“It’s emotional. Our group has been together since September,” Lamoureux said. “To not get the outcome we wanted is tough. That’s life.
“This group has no regrets. We’re not going to look back with regret on this run. It’s disappointing. We’re so proud of the effort that this team showed.”
The Force spent most of the regular season in first or second place, but a late-season tailspin sent them into the playoffs as the fourth and bottom seed in the Western Conference. They were on the brink of elimination against Tri-City in Game 2 of the opening playoff series. But Aaron Huglen tied the game with 74 seconds to go and Tristan Broz won it for them in overtime.
They trailed again in Game 3 of that best-of-three series, but scored two unanswered goals to take the series and stay alive.
Fargo then swept Sioux City in the Western Conference Finals and earned a spot in the Clark Cup Finals.
“When our group went into a little bit of a tailspin at the end of the season, a lot of teams would have packed it in and wouldn’t have made the run that we did,” Lamoureux said. “We’re proud of the resiliency and the toughness and the togetherness that we showed through a tough stretch.
“Our group found a way to stick together and make it all the way to the league finals.”
After losing Game 3 of the championship series 7-1 on Friday, the Force bounced back and kept themselves within striking distance from wire-to-wire in Game 4.
Chicago didn’t stretch its lead to more than a goal until Adam Fantilli’s second strike made it 3-2 and all but sealed it with 2:05 left in the third. The Force had opportunities to tie it up in the third, but just couldn’t get one to go in.
“Getting pucks to the net was the key thing, getting bodies and pucks there and looking for key bounces,” Force forward Mason Salquist said. “They just didn’t come tonight. We have a great group of guys in this locker room and I’m proud of every one of them.”
Goalie Andrew Miller made 29 saves for the Force. The backup to Brennan Boynton for much of the season, he was a major factor in the Force’s run to the finals. He posted back-to-back shutouts in the series-deciding win over Sioux City and in the opening game of the championship series.
He gave the Force a chance to win Game 3, making a number of key saves down the stretch to keep them in it.
“When Andrew got his opportunity against Sioux City, he took it and ran with it,” Lamoureux said. “That was the message to our team throughout the whole year, staying ready and being ready. That’s what he did. When Boynt was hot and had the net, Andrew was an every-dayer, he came to the rink every day and he was prepared, he was detailed and he was ready.”
Cody Monds scored the Force’s lone goal with 12:40 to go in the first period. He picked up a pass from Tristan Broz and finished in the top-right corner. Monds, a Providence commit, also scored his team’s lone goal in Game 2.
Jackson Blake, the son of Moorhead native and NHL all-star Jason Blake scored what turned out to be the series-deciding goal for the Steel. It was his first goal in the playoffs. He also scored the game-winning goal for Eden Prairie to win a Minnesota Class 2A state hockey championship during his high school season this winter.
FIRST: 1, C, Fantilli (Huard, Farrell) 11:08. 1, F, Minds (Broz, Crasa) 12:40.
SECOND: 2, C, Blake (Robbins, Harvey) 13:17.
THIRD: 3, C, Fantilli (Farrell, Babbage) 17:55.
SAVES: F, Miller 11-8-10—29; C, Latkoczy 7-8-12—27.