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Chris Murphy, Published April 16 2013

Force prepare for Waterloo's Big Three

FARGO – Hockey is a not a numbers sport. There’s so much that happens on the ice that will never find its place in a box score.

The numbers for Waterloo, however, are hard to ignore. Fargo certainly hasn’t missed the statistics before opening the United States Hockey League best of five, first-round series with the Black Hawks tonight at Scheels Arena.

“They can honestly score a lot of goals,” Fargo forward Gabe Guertler said. “You have to play better defensively.”

Waterloo has found the back of the net 273 times, which is 26 more times than any team in the USHL.

The Big Three for Waterloo are forwards Taylor Cammarata (93 points), Justin Kloos (87) and Zach Stepan (78). They own the top three spots in points in the USHL. Cammarata and Kloos are both University of Minnesota commits and Stepan is an Ohio State commit and was selected by the Nashville Predators in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Draft.

“We know all three of those guys are highly skilled,” Fargo forward Brendan Harms said.

“We just have to limit their space and forecheck hard.”

There’s a pretty simple plan to stop them.

“Your best defense is playing in their offensive zone,” said Fargo forward Dominic Toninato, who is tied with Harms for the points lead on the Force with 70. “They can’t score from down there.”

The only numbers that matter to Fargo is their 4-1 record versus Waterloo. Cammarata is scoreless versus the Force, but has five assist in the five meetings. Kloos has three goals and two assists and Stepan hasn’t notched a point versus the Force.

There’s nothing like a wall to stop speed and Fargo has certainly taken advantage of being surrounded by boards.

“We try not giving them the middle of the rink to create,” Fargo defenseman Taylor Fleming said. “With those top lines, the best thing is to keep them on the boards and staying out of the penalty box.”

Waterloo won the last meeting of the regular season against Fargo 2-1 with both goals coming on the power play. But the Black Hawks had another weapon that game, which could be an even bigger problem for the Force than the big three.

Although Vince Hinostroza – a University of Notre Dame commit and sixth-round draft pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012 – had no points in his two games versus Fargo, the forward is a difference maker. He played in two of the three games the Black Hawks managed to get points versus the Force and the only game they won.

“With him back, that’s another line to worry about,” Guertler said.

Thanks in large part to a wrist injury, Hinostroza has played in 46 games this season, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up 60 points.

“He’s still wearing a cast, so he’s not his complete self,” Fleming said. “I’d put him up there as one of the top forwards in the league. He’s a big asset for them and he’s a guy that needs to be limited.”

Fargo dropped their last two games of the season in the team’s first back-to-back losses since dropping games on Feb. 2 and Feb. 8. But that part of the season is over. At this point, losing streaks end seasons.

“Obviously we weren’t too happy with the way we finished,” Harms said. “We just all have to chip in and bear down. Playoffs are a whole new season and it all starts fresh now. That stuff is out the window.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548