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Tom Mix, Published March 02 2013

Lincoln tops Fargo in USHL action

FARGO – Michael Bitzer is no stranger to Fargo-Moorhead area hockey fans.

Bitzer made a name for himself playing goalie at Moorhead High School before graduating last spring. The 19-year-old former Spuds standout was back in Fargo on Saturday playing for the Lincoln Stars.

Being back home suited Bitzer just fine as he made 24 saves in Lincoln’s 3-2 United States Hockey League win over the Fargo Force before 4,326 fans at Scheels Arena.

“It is great playing in front of family, friends, and some people I haven’t seen in a while,” Bitzer said.

Bitzer, who is 18-8-1 this season for Lincoln, started Saturday’s game. He was inserted in Friday’s game after Fargo jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second period. He made 17 saves did not allowing another goal.

“Yesterday I got put in after a rough start,” Bitzer said. “I just tried to give the team a chance to win and we brought it back close. I thought we brought a little bit of that momentum back tonight.”

With only 14 games left to play, Lincoln is in the Western Conference playoff picture. Saturday’s win catapulted them from fifth place to third in the conference standing behind Fargo.

Austin Ortega got the Force (30-16-5) on the board first with a goal 5 minutes, 9 seconds into the first period, but 11 seconds later Lincoln’s Riley Bourbonnais got the equalizer.

The Stars (29-18-3) dominated the second period outshooting the Force 19-7. Tommy Schutt put Lincoln in the lead with a goal 4:20 into the second.

“The second period they just dominated us,” Fargo head coach John Marks said. “We didn’t compete in the second period. I was disappointed with the lack of effort and lack of execution.”

Fargo’s Alex Iafallo tied it 2-2 with a goal 1:27 into the third period, but later in the period the Stars got a power-play opportunity.

The Stars scored a second after the power play expired when Phillip Marinaccio got a shot past Force goalie Cameron Johnson.

Marinaccio’s game-winner was set up by a costly Force turnover.

“We had full control of the puck at the end of that penalty kill,” Marks said. “Ortega had it and no one was around him. He turns it over and they jam it in and score. Those are the kind of goals that you can’t win with. … In a tight game 2-2 you have to be a lot more responsible with the puck then we were.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, F, Ortega, 5:09. 2, L, Bourbonnais, (Wood), 5:20.

SECOND PERIOD: 3, L, Schutt, (Brossart), 4:20.

THIRD PERIOD: 4, F, Iafallo, (Goff), 1:27. 5, L, Marinaccio), 10:36.

SAVES: L, Bitzer 5-7-12–24. F, Johnson 5-19-9–33.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562