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Chris Murphy, Published March 07 2013

Force fighting to keep playoff spot

FARGO – For the Fargo Force, it’s crunch time. Then again, with the standings in the Western Conference of the United States Hockey League, it’s been crunch time.

“It’s been like playoff hockey pretty much since the new year with how tight the standings are,” said Force forward Brendan Harms, who is tied for eighth in the USHL with 54 points. “Everyone is fighting to try and make the playoffs, and it makes it that much more fun.”

Fargo finds itself in an odd spot. The Force are being chased with a bit of a cushion, while doing some chasing of their own. It’s like hunting while being hunted.

“It’s been tight all year, and we’ve always been trying to gain points,” Harms said. “(Wednesday) we played a big game and we got those two big points. Every game is two big points.”

With a 5-2 victory Wednesday against Western Conference leader Sioux Falls, Fargo moved within five points of the top spot with 67 points. Lincoln and Waterloo are in third and fourth, respectively, with 61 points, and Omaha is out of the final playoff spot by one point at 60 points. It’s impossible for the team not do some scoreboard watching with 12 games remaining in the regular season.

“We do quite a bit of it,” said Fargo forward Gabe Guertler, who is tied for 22nd in the USHL with 43 points. “Our whole team knows about it. I personally don’t check scores right after games, but I usually do that night. It’s good we’re all aware of it. We all know how much each game matters. It pushes us to play as hard as we can rather than getting loose with a big lead.”

Fargo has the chance to get one monkey off its back. Lincoln comes to Scheels Arena on Saturday and Tuesday as the final two cracks the Stars have at the Force. Lincoln will look to creep up the standings, but the Force are looking to put the nail in the coffin holding the Stars’ playoff hopes.

“If we can beat them the next two games, they are way behind us,” Guertler said. “It’s exciting to know that we can knock a team out, especially a rival. It’s always nice to win the big games, especially coming close to playoffs.”

Fargo is lucky enough to be in the driver’s seat. As long as the Force win, other scores mean very little.

“It’s always nice to not have to depend on other teams to get in,” Guertler said. “If we keep winning, we’ll be in the playoffs for sure.”

Then again, it can totally backfire on the Force. It’s that time of the year, and it’s been that kind of a season in the USHL.

“It’s obviously a lot better being ahead than chasing, but it can switch in a matter of a couple games,” Harms said. “We have to always be on our toes and be ready to play hard all the time.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548