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Matt Zimmer / Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Published May 08 2013

Fargo Force advance to Clark Cup Finals

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The Sioux Falls Stampede’s record-setting season came to an end Wednesday night, as the Fargo Force twice fought off their quick-strike opponent for a 7-4 win that propelled them into the United States Hockey League’s Clark Cup Finals. They’ll face the Anderson Cup champion Dubuque Fighting Saints.

It’s certainly well-earned for the Force, who overcame a 2-1 deficit against Waterloo last round, then won two of three in Sioux Falls to close out the Western Conference finals.

“It’s hard to describe the feelings, but it’s what we worked for all year,” said Fargo’s Taylor Fleming, who had a goal and an assist Wednesday. “Sioux Falls is a great team. They’re the most hard-working team that we play. But it feels great to get the win. It’ll feel even better when we win the Clark Cup. Hopefully.”

Tony Calderone and Todd Skirving scored goals just seconds apart early in the game to give the Stampede a 2-0 lead. But Fargo coach John Marks burned his timeout, a move that clearly paid dividends and was credited by Sioux Falls coach Cary Eades.

“We got two goals and maybe we got overconfident,” Skirving said. “They called a good timeout and made some plays and capitalized on their opportunities. You have to give them credit.”

Said Fleming of the timeout: “It definitely calmed us down. He just told us to take care of the puck and settle down. He told us there was still plenty of time.”

The Force roared back with four unanswered goals that put them up 4-2 after two periods. The Stampede’s Zeb Knutson made it 4-3 just six minutes into the third, though, and when Ryan Siiro rifled one past Cameron Johnson a minute later to tie the game, it looked like the Sioux Falls was going to ride the roaring crowd of 4,000-plus to its fourth straight win in an elimination game.

“It was a new ballgame at that point,” Eades said. “They’d outplayed us in a lot of areas up to that point, but we were able to scrape and claw our way back in the game. We tied the game, but expended a lot of energy trying to do it.”

Kenny Gillespie’s second goal of the game put Fargo back on top at the midway point of the period, and Alex Iafallo made it 6-4 two minutes later.

An empty-netter by Brendan Harms, his second goal of the game, sent the fans to the exits with 40 seconds left.

While the loss surely stung that much more because the Stampede seemed to be in prime position to advance, it was hard to deny that the Force were impressive. They outshot the Stampede 46-26, and beat back Sioux Falls rallies even when the crowd threatened to become a factor.

“You give up 46 shots you’re not going to win too many hockey games,” Eades said. “You have to give Fargo credit for how well they played. They handled a couple of big punches and got up off the canvas. They did the job, and they’re moving on.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, SF, Calderone (Skirving, Muto) 5:35. 2, SF, Skirving (Schempp, Calderone) 5:56. 3, F, Gillespie (Nelson) 7:41.

SECOND PERIOD: 4, F, Fleming (Gust, Ortega) 2:00. 5, F, Gust (Guertler, Ortega) 6:26. 6, F, Harms (Fleming, Toninato) 17:49.

THIRD PERIOD: 7, SF, Knutson (Franklin, Van Voorhis) 5:32. 8, SF, Siiro (Hand, Schempp) 6:29. 9, F, Gillespie (Nelson) 9:30. 10, F, Iafallo (Harms) 11:19. 11, F, Harms 19:20 (en).

SAVES: F, Johnson 22. SF, Lindgren 39.