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Weston Hodkiewicz / Green Bay Press-Gazette, Published May 13 2010

No way in Green Bay: Force denied in Clark Cup finals for second straight year

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. – Green Bay Gamblers forward Sean Little prides himself more on his ability to stop opposing offenses than his own goal scoring.

So when Gamblers goaltender Steve Summerhays told Little he was going to score the game-winning goal before Game 5 of the United States Hockey League Clark Cup championship series on Wednesday, both players had a good laugh.

As it turns out, Summerhays is a better prognosticator than he is a comedian.

After scoring only four goals in 65 games this season, Little netted the game-winning goal with less than 7 minutes left in regulation while the Gamblers held off the Fargo Force for a 5-3 win in front of a record-breaking 8,487 at the Resch Center.

The 3-2 series win gives the Gamblers’ their first Clark Cup championship since 2000. It’s also believed to be the first time during a Clark Cup best-of-five series that a team has bounced back from 2-0 deficit to win the series.

Meanwhile, it was a tough loss for the Force - which was 49 seconds away from winning the title in Game 3.

“We played extremely hard and gave ourselves a chance,” said Fargo coach Steve Johnson, whose team was Clark Cup runner-up last season. “If someone said we’d be in somebody else’s building in front of 8,500 people with a chance to win the game in Game 5, we’d probably be pretty happy about that.

“It doesn’t make it any easier for the guys in that locker room. We gave it everything we could and the guys have a lot to be proud of.”

It only helped that Little, a native of Fond du Lac, Wis., had his entire family there to witness the moment – including his older brother, Ryan, who played for the Gamblers from 2005-2008.

Little’s line with forwards William Kessel, and David Gerths usually draw the opposing team’s best scorers with the No. 1 goal of holding them scoreless.

On Wednesday, Little did a little more than just that.

“Our line played just unreal,” he said. “We were buzzing all playoffs, but to finally pop one in during the final game was really rewarding.”

Green Bay fell behind early with Force forward Garrett Allen scoring his sixth goal of the postseason with a shot over the shoulder of Summerhays at 11:19 to put Fargo ahead 1-0 at the end of the opening stanza.

Keeping with their theme of early period scoring, the Gamblers quickly netted two goals within the first 2 minutes,

23 seconds of the second period with efforts from Robert Francis and Ryan Furne. Francis’ goal – one of two on Wednesday – broke Fargo goalie Ryan Massa’s streak of 30 straight saves.

The game remained tilted

2-1 in Green Bay’s favor until Fargo forward Joe Rehkamp secured a rebounded puck off Summerhays and threw it past him to tie the game 2-2 entering the third period.

Fargo forward Matt Leitner gave his team a 3-2 lead about 5 minutes into the third period before Green Bay started to rally. Beginning with Anders Lee tipping in his 10th goal of the playoffs to even the score 3-3 at 9:34.

It was Little’s goal, however, that put Green Bay ahead for good. Fargo pulled goalie Ryan Massa with less than 2 minutes left in the period, which then allowed Francis to score an empty netter with 12 seconds left to put the game out of reach, 5-3.

The Force were playing without two of their leading scorers Corey Leivermann and Chase Grant.

“It’s part of the game, there’s nothing we can do about it – that’s hockey,” Johnson said. “We’re never worried about the guys who aren’t in the lineup, we’re worried about the 20 guys who are in the lineup and those guys played hard. They gave us a chance to win.”

Johnson once again praised the goaltending of Massa.

“Ryan is a mature kid, who prepares the right way and gives us a chance to win,” Johnson said. “We were a below .500 team before we got him, and did some pretty good things with him.”

Fargo 1 1 1 – 3

Green Bay 0 2 3 – 5

FIRST PERIOD: 1, F, Garrett Allen, 6 (unassisted), 11:19.

SECOND PERIOD: 2, GB, Robert Francis, 3 (Ludwig Karlsson, Patrick McCadden), 0:37; 3, GB, Ryan Furne, 7 (Anders Lee, David Makowski), 2:32; 4, F, Joe Rehkamp, 3 (J.P. Burkemper), 15:49.

THIRD PERIOD: 5, F, Matt Leitner, 10 (Marek Hrbas), power play, 4:42; 6, GB, Anders Lee, 10 (Nick Jensen, David Makowski), power play, 9:34; 7, GB, Sean Little, 1 (David Gerths), 13:31; 8, GB, Francis, 4 (Lee, Makowski), 19:48.

SHOTS ON GOALS: F, 10-6-6—22. GB, 10-15-7—32.

POWER-PLAY OPPORTUNITIES: F, 1-for-2. GB, 1-for-6.

PENALTIES: F, 7-17. GB, 3-9.

GOALIE STATS: F, Ryan Massa 31 shots, 27 saves. GB, Steve Summerhays 22 shots, 19 saves.

Attendance: 8,487.

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