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Chris Murphy, Published January 10 2013

Force rally around recent transactions

Fargo - Over the past month, the United States Hockey League’s Fargo Force have made a lot of moves. No move has been more significant than their jump to near the top of the league standings.

On Dec. 7, the Force swapped defensemen with Cedar Rapids, picking up Gavin Bayreuther and shipping off Justin Wade. Ten days later, the Force sent captain Dominic Racobaldo to Omaha for forward Kenny Gillespie and defenseman Frank Schumacher. Schumacher returned to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on Thursday.

Two weeks after the Racobaldo trade, forward Nate Arentz was named the new captain of the Force.

Since the Dec. 7 trade, the Force are 10-2 and are 7-1 since the Dec. 17 trade, carrying their second five-game winning streak this season to Tri-City for back-to-back games tonight and Saturday in Kearney, Neb.

“Whenever you make a trade, you hope it works out well,” said Fargo forward Dominic Toninato, who netted the game winner in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Sioux City that put the Force in a tie for first place in the Western Conference for the time being. “These moves have definitely helped.”

It wasn’t so much the players gained or those departed, but just the shakeup that shook up Fargo. The team is no longer a group of individuals. They’re a Force to be reckoned with.

“We realized how well of a team we could be if we played together,” Arentz said. “At the beginning of the year, I felt like we had some individuals and some players that wanted to get it themselves, but, as a team, we realized that we needed each other. That’s why we’ve been so successful.”

The new guys, however, have certainly helped. Bayreuther has two goals – including the tying goal in Tuesday’s win – and seven assists with a plus-13 plus/minus in 12 games with the Force and Gillespie has three goals and an assist with a plus-4 plus/minus in seven games.

“Each guy brings something different,” Toninato said. “Gavin is a great defenseman. Offensively and defensively, he’s good with the puck and a great power-play guy. Kenny brings a physical body, hard work and he’s also a scorer and playmaker.”

The duo has also brought a level of toughness to the team, as the Force have shut down offenses. In the 22 games before Dec. 7, the Force were averaging 3.27 goals against and 34 shots on a goal a game. Since the trades, the Force have allowed 2.16 goals on 30 shots a game.

“Obviously, they’ve brought some toughness and some prospects to the table, but I think we, as a team, have bought into the system,” Arentz said.

Not only are the new players gelling well, but Arentz has settled into his head captain role.

“I have a bigger role. The guys look up to me more, and I have to be more vocal,” Arentz said. “I feel like I do that and I don’t mind it. They put the name on your chest and you have to live up to it.”

The next big move for the Force will be learning how to play the role of favorites rather than chasing it.

“We have been chasing quite a bit,” Arentz said. “Now, going into games, we just have to really look at ourselves in the mirror and do it for the guy next to us. Now, our team has a name on our back and teams are going to want to knock us out. We need to play that much better and be that much harder to play against.”

As is life in the Western Conference, the first-place enjoyment was short-lived, as Sioux Falls used an 8-3 win over Waterloo on Wednesday to take back first place.

The chase continues for the Force.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548