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Chris Murphy, Published April 04 2013

Toninato, Fargo Force on pace for potentially historic season


With four games remaining in the regular season, the only team record not falling for Fargo is the team’s actual record in the United States Hockey League.

Dominic Toninato set the single-season scoring record with two assists on March 29. It was a point Toninato actually didn’t get that made him aware of what he’s accomplished so far in the season.

“I had no idea I was approaching any record until the Fargo Force tweeted that I had tied the record with an assist that I didn’t actually get,” Toninato said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling, especially to do it in my first year in the USHL. Couldn’t do it without my teammates, especially my linemates.”

Just like on the ice, Toninato didn’t hesitate when recounting his favorite of his 67 points on the season – which surpassed Matt Leitner’s 66 in 2009-10.

“The hat trick I got in Sioux Falls,” Toninato said. “It was my first hat trick in the USHL, and I got it in the first period. It was on the road in the hostile environment, which makes it cool.”

Toninato entered the record books, but Gabe Guertler, Taylor Fleming and the team aren’t far behind. Guertler is four goals shy of breaking the franchise record for goals in a season, Fleming is three goals away from scoring the most goals for a Force defenseman, and the team is two wins away from becoming the winningest team in the five-year history of the Force.

In his exit meeting last season with Fargo coach John Marks, when asked how many goals he could score this season, Guertler said 42. Marks chuckled and said maybe 30.

Guertler has 31 and is three behind Andy Taranto’s 34 goals in the Force’s inaugural season. Guertler sees no trouble with getting four goals in the remaining four games.

“I think it’s possible,” said Guertler, a University of Minnesota commit. “It would be nice if I could. In the end it’s about winning games. The goals aren’t as important if you aren’t winning.”

Guertler has no real favorite goal on the season or preference in how he finds the back of the net. He does enjoy breakaways and has a flare for the dramatic.

“(Forward) Dave Gust has given me a few passes that have given me breakaways and I’ve scored a few with 0.2 seconds left or something,” Guertler said. “Those are kind of fun to get. It’s just fun scoring. All of them are fun.”

Marks wouldn’t be a coach if he didn’t make sure to keep the egos of his players in check. Outside of Toninato’s record, the rest – including the Force win record – will come after the 60-game mark.

The USHL is in its first season moving from a 60-game season to a 64-game season. The Force were one goal away from having the best record in Force history in the 60th game. The win would have put the Force at 37-16-7 after 60, topping the 37-17-6 mark from 2009-10, but they fell 2-1 to Waterloo.

“I guess we can put the Roger Maris asterisk beside it,” Marks said. “Third periods we’ve come back when we’re down, we’ve won games where we were tied and we’ve held on with a lead. That’s a testament to the players’ work ethic. It’s a great combination of everybody.”

The biggest record for the Force is their final overall record. Although they’ve clinched a playoff berth, they have not clinched first-round home-ice advantage. Heading into tonight’s game with first-place Sioux Falls, the Force are up four points on Lincoln to get that privilege.

“It all means nothing if we don’t do anything in the playoffs,” Marks said. “You got to win the last game you play. Until you win the last game you play, it doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished up to that point.”

Winning the last game in the USHL season and hoisting the Clark Cup would be a first for Fargo. That record would need no asterisk or argument.

“I haven’t seen the other Force teams, but statistically you could argue we’re the best,” Toninato said. “You can’t make an argument for us being the best team when we haven’t done anything in the playoffs yet. We have the team to do it. Hopefully we can bring the first one to Fargo.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548