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Kerry Collins, Published January 09 2009

Scoring spree: Force’s Grant benefits from line change

Chase Grant knew he could score. He just needed a little help from his friends.

After going the first 23 games without a goal, the Fargo Force forward has three goals and five assists in his last six games.

The fact that the scoring spike has come since he was put on the same line with Andy Taranto and Matt Leitner is no coincidence.

“I started playing with them eight games ago, and it just started clicking,” Grant said. “Now we’re all playing with a ton of confidence.”

The Force hope that confidence continues into this weekend. Fargo hosts Sioux Falls at 7:05 tonight, and travels to Nebraska to face Lincoln on Saturday and Tri-City on Sunday.

Grant had only four assists through those first 23 games, but is the hottest offensive player for the Force recently.

Along with the goals and assists, Grant is a sparkling plus-10 in plus-minus rating during those six games.

The rest of the line has been sizzling, too. Leitner has a goal in five straight games, and is tied with Josh Birkholz for the team scoring lead. Taranto has two goals and five assists in the last four contests.

“That’s one of those lines where you have a playmaker in Leitner, a grinder in Chase, and a finisher, great two-way player in Andy,” Force coach Dean Blais said.

Grant was obviously frustrated with his lack of scoring goals early in the season, but the forward from Oklahoma City knew going from Midgets to the USHL was going to be a jump.

“I just had to work harder,” Grant said. “I scored a lot of goals with my Midget team, and then I went like 25 without one here.

“I just kept my head down and kept working. But it was frustrating. When you’re a forward, you’re out there to score goals.”

Blais was confident Grant would come out of the early funk, and the coach said Grant’s drought had some near misses.

“He was one of those guys that was snakebit,” Blais said with a laugh. “He’d have opportunities, but he’d hit pipes or the puck would take a funny bounce over his stick.

“He’s getting some of the same opportunities now, and they’re going in. But his biggest job, whether he realized it or not, was not hurting us when he was on the ice, and he did that.”

Fargo will need the Leitner-Taranto-Grant line to continue to be sharp, as one of their top scorers went down last Friday in Chicago.

The Force will also be without forward Keegan Flaherty for about a month, as the Duluth, Minn., native has a distal radius fracture in his left arm.

Taranto will take over as one of the alternate captains in Flaherty’s absence.

“We’re going to miss him a lot,” Blais said. “He’s on the power play, the penalty kill and he’s a regular scorer.

“But when something like that happens, it gives someone else an opportunity. They have to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Thirty games into the 60-game season, Fargo is third in the West Division with 29 points, and is eight points behind division leaders Lincoln and Omaha.

But 17 of Fargo’s final 30 games will be at home – where the Force are 9-3-1 through the first half.

“We’re playing with confidence now, and it gives us another potent scoring line,” Grant said. “It’s not just one or two guys scoring points for us anymore.”

Readers can reach Forum sports writer

Kerry Collins at (701) 241-5548.

Collins’ blogs can be found

at www.areavoices.com