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Chris Murphy, Published January 18 2013

Force cruise past Tri-City for victory

FARGO – If anyone is looking to warm up this weekend, Scheels Arena is not a bad place to be.

The Fargo Force are the hottest team in the United States Hockey League, and they rolled by Tri-City 7-3 on Friday in front of 4,644 at Scheels Arena.

The Force are winners of 12 of their last 15, seven of their last eight and have not lost back-to-back games since a three-game skid Nov. 16-21.

“Well, it certainly helps when you score seven goals,” Fargo coach John Marks said. “I’m really happy with the way we’re playing, and hopefully we just keep picking up games.”

Tri-City (15-17-4) tried to outmuscle and bully the clearly more-skilled Force, but judging by the fact the only thing Force forward Kenny Gillespie was wiping off after a fight with Storm’s Brian Ward was his knuckles, that game plan didn’t work. The scoreboard was the only punch that mattered.

“They can’t (outmuscle us),” Marks said. “You saw Kenny Gillespie handle that guy. (Neal) Goff can beat up anybody on their team, and so can Tyler Rehm, and so can (Chris) Buchanan. We’ve got some guys that are beasts. I just wish that the beast would come out more often. The wick at the end of the dynamite is a little long. I’d like to have some shorter fuses. When the guys want to be really physical, they can be. Talk to Dubuque (Fighting Saints), they found out.”

Force (22-10-5) forward Dave Gust ate his normal pregame spaghetti dinner before taking on Tri-City on Friday. Perhaps there was extra sauce because Gust had a hat trick and an assist to lead the Force.

“We were a little bitter about how last weekend they broke our streak and we came out flying,” Gust said. “I know we’re a really skilled team, but it doesn’t mean we can’t hit also. We just have to keep fighting back.”

After Tri-City opened the scoring 6 minutes, 32 seconds into the game, Brendan Harms slammed on a rebound off a Dominic Toninato wraparound that was stopped by Storm goalie Christian Frey. Gust sent home a rebound on a Gavin Bayreuther slap shot to give the Force a 2-1 lead. The Storm would tie things up on a power-play goal, but Gust struck again with a wrister 13 seconds later to give the Force a 3-2 lead after the first period.

Tri-City would tie it less than three minutes into the second period, but the Force responded with four unanswered goals. Eight different Force players recorded points, as Harms netted two goals, Kenny Gillespie scored a goal, Toninato had a goal and an assist, Gavin Bayreuther and Matt Pohlkamp each had two assists and Alex Iafallo and Taylor Fleming each dished out an assist to go along with Gust’s four-point night.

“We’ve got a lot of skill, but you got to work,” Marks said. “No one is just going to give you anything in this league. Hard work will beat skill when skill works hard. Tonight, there was times where we were just relentless.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1. T, Eastman (Cotton, Vecchione) 6:32. 2. F, Harms (Toninato, Iafallo) 7:35. 3. F, Gust (Bayreuther, Pohlkamp), pp, 11:44. 4. Ward (Hrabovsky), pp, 16:30. 5. F, Gust 14:33.

SECOND PERIOD: 6. T, Lappin (Maller) 2:46. 7. F, Gust (Pohlkamp Bayreuther), pp, 6:48. 8. F, Toninato (Gust) 14:04.

THIRD PERIOD: 9. F, Harms (Fleming) 8:53. 10. F, Gillespie 14:23..

SAVES: F, Johnson 15-11-12 38 saves. T, Frey 13-14-10 37 saves.

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