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Chris Murphy, Published March 15 2013

Force outlast Buccaneers for key USHL win

FARGO – With six of its final 10 games being against the two worst teams in the Western Conference, Fargo just needs to handle its business to get into the playoffs.

On Friday, the Force did just that, topping Des Moines 6-3 in United States Hockey League action at Scheels Arena.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. There was nothing easy about Fargo’s victory over the Western Conference’s seventh-place team.

“It doesn’t matter who you play. Everybody is going to put up a fight,” Fargo coach John Marks said. “Sure, Des Moines is probably mathematically out, but they are playing hard. You can’t take anybody for granted. That was too close for comfort.”

Forty-six seconds after Fargo (33-16-6) took its first lead of the game on a Dave Gust goal to make it 3-2 with 13 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the third period, Des Moines (21-30-3) tied it up on a power-play goal off the stick off Willem Nong-Lambert. The Force answered with three unanswered goals in the next 10 minutes.

With just less than 12 minutes to go, Gabe Guertler fired in the go-ahead goal to make it 4-3.

“It’s tough after you score a big goal, and they come back and tie it,” Guertler said. “It hurts, but it gave us reason to work harder to put the winner in.”

Less than three minutes after Guertler gave Fargo the lead with his 29th goal on the season, Brendan Harms found the back of the net for the second time to make it 5-3.

“They weren’t going to give up,” Harms said. “They have 10 games left in the season, and they want to ruin our chances to get in the playoffs. Every game is a battle from here on in.”

Gage Torrel slammed the door shut with his ninth goal of the season with just less than three minutes remaining for Fargo.

With the third- and fourth-place teams ¬– both five points behind Fargo for second place in the conference ¬– playing one another Friday night, a loss would have meant one team creeping up on the Force. With the victory, the Force have their eyes set on a bigger goal with nine games remaining. The win over Des Moines was a step closer toward notching not only a playoff spot, but home-ice advantage for a first-round playoff series.

“We still have games to play and points we need to get,” Marks said. “You have to respect everyone. Nothing is certain yet, but I want first or second place for that home ice for the first round.”

A win for Sioux Falls (78 points) kept Fargo (72) six points out of first place. Lincoln (67) topped Waterloo (65) to take a hold of third place and bump Waterloo to the fourth and final playoff spot. An Omaha (64) loss kept the Lancers a point out of the playoffs.

“Every team can win,” Harms said. “We just have to stay level-headed and just keep working as if every game is a playoff game.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1. D, Marnell (Galt, Cockerill) 3:47. 2. F, Toninato 11:47. SECOND PERIOD: 3. D, Schueneman (Marnell) 8:42. 4. F, Harms (Fleming, Iafallo), pp, 14:41. THIRD PERIOD: 5. F, Gust (Ortega, Fleming) 6:30. 6. D, Nong-Lambert (Gambardella), pp, 7:16. 7. Guertler 11:56. 8. Harms (Toninato, Iafallo) 14:16. 9. F, Torrel 17:05. SAVES: F, Jensen 7-11-10 27 saves. D, Christopoulos 8-11-17 36 saves.

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