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Published April 15 2012

Line has Force primed for playoffs

FARGO – Achieving consistency was the objective, but it might have gone even better than planned.

Fargo Force coach John Marks was looking for a way to jump start a beleaguered offense. After all, his team had started the season by losing 13 of their first 15 games.

Marks liked what he saw when forwards Alex Iafallo and Gabe Guertler played together. But something was still missing. That is, until the team added forward Dave Gust from its affiliates list.

The partnership resulted in a line that has added a scoring punch, and at times has even challenged for the title of the team’s best line and could help the Force go far in the United States Hockey League playoffs, which start today with a home contest against Sioux City.

“We just work hard in practice and we’ve gained our camaraderie with that,” said Iafallo. “Just battling in games has also made us good friends.”

Iafallo (32 points), Gust (30 points) and Guertler (28 points) are the team’s fourth, fifth and sixth leading scorers, respectively, this season.

They’ve pulled this off as rookies in a league where experienced players are usually the ones providing the scoring.

Guertler came to the team with the most expectations. He was the second overall pick in last season’s USHL Futures Draft, represented the United States in an international tournament over the summer and became the first Floridian to ever commit to the University of Minnesota.

Iafallo was a second-round pick in the USHL Entry Draft who was listed on NHL Central Scouting’s pre-season NHL Draft watch list to start the season.

Gust, meanwhile, was emerging as the team’s best prospect, having scored 42 points in 40 games while playing midget majors last season.

“Alex and I played on a line together in training camp and we had nine points in three games,” Guertler said. “So I was really happy about that. Then when Dave came in and joined our line, it was even better.”

How they operate is simple. Iafallo is the playmaker who seeks out his teammates in the hopes of creating a scoring chance. But if needed, he can score too, as evidenced by his 17 goals.

Same goes with Gust. He is a speedy forward who can attack from all over the ice, either with his shot or his passing. Gust has actually drawn comparisons to teammate, Austin Farley, who led the team in points this season.

Guertler, despite being 5-9, possesses all those things, but he also has a gritty nature to his game. He’s willing to win face-offs, fight in the corners for pucks along with checking older and considerably bigger players without hesitation.

“Guertler works his butt off. He’s hard to play against,” Marks said. “He’s so competitive. I think Gabe believes he’s 6-2.”

Belief is something Guertler, the line’s most outspoken member, constantly has when it comes to what the trio could accomplish.

Guertler said he feels their line isn’t just one of the best on the Force but it’s one of the best in the entire league. His hypothesis has merit considering all three players will be back next season with a chance of being the Force’s No. 1 line.

Yet that’s the nature of this line. They have confidence in what they can do and it has been that way for a while.

Gust, about a year ago was playing midgets when he went up against some kid from Buffalo in the same game. Gust scored two goals and so did the kid from Buffalo.

The kid from Buffalo ended up being Iafallo.

“I played against him last year and I thought he was pretty good,” Gust said. “I just never thought we would have been teammates.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found

at slightlychilled.areavoices.com