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Chris Murphy, Published May 01 2013

Force goalie has been a key thus far in tight playoff series

FARGO – Before leading the Fargo Force junior hockey team into a game, goalie Cam Johnson always puts his head down, stares at the ice and clears his mind.

“That’s where I say, ‘OK, I’m going to play as well as I can,’” Johnson said. “You just forget about everything else that’s going on, and you pretty much focus on that game.”

Hopefully, for Fargo, he doesn’t forget everything going into tonight’s Game 3 of the United States Hockey League’s best-of-5 Western Conference finals versus Sioux Falls. Despite splitting the first two games, Johnson has stopped 69 of the 73 shots.

Game 2 could be one the Force look back and shake their heads at by the time this series ends. Up 1-0 in the third period, the Force allowed a goal off a turnover in their own zone and another on a loose puck they couldn’t clear in front of the net in a 2-1 loss.

“I definitely think that I played a good game, but they got a couple of lucky bounces that went their way,” Johnson said. “I know we have a better team than them. If we play as well as we should, I don’t think we’ll have a problem beating them.”

The rest of the series will be in Sioux Falls, so the best-of-5 series turns into a best-of-3 road trip for Fargo, with the winner going to the Clark Cup finals.

“Both their goals were bad bounces our way, but they had the pressure in our end, so they deserved it,” Fargo right winger Brendan Harms said. “We just have to keep working hard. Cam is going to give a chance to win every night and we got to help him out a little more.”

The Force are 1-1-2 at Sioux Falls Arena in the regular season. Only Dubuque had a better home record than Sioux Falls, as the Stampede – including the playoffs – have won 26 of their 35 home games. It’s a smaller sheet of ice, so the Force will have to adjust.

“It’s obviously a big thing we have to do to win two of the three games at Sioux Falls,” Fargo center Gabe Guertler said. “It’s kind of a smaller rink, and they are a more physical team, so we have to use our speed. It gives us less space. Sioux Falls is a hard-hitting team, so we know they are going to finish every check and not give us much time. You just have to do things faster.”

Fargo was able to adjust to the bigger sheet of ice in Waterloo when they were trailing 2-1 in a best-of-5 series.

“We’ve had our backs up against the wall before,” Harms said. “Going from our rink to Waterloo was an adjustment because it’s bigger. Now, we’re going the complete opposite because it’s smaller. It takes away time and space.”

Johnson would play Sioux Falls on a frozen pond if he had to.

“I love playing against Sioux Falls because they’ve been the No. 1 team pretty much all year and I love playing those big games,” Johnson said. “I’ve had Sioux Falls’ number. They have some rowdy fans too. It’s fun when the fans are yelling at you and trying to get in your head. That gets me going.”

Game 3 is today at 7:05 p.m., Game 4 will be Sunday at 6:05 p.m. and, if needed, Game 5 will be May 8 at 7:05 p.m.

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