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Chris Murphy, Published May 09 2013

Fargo Force gear up for Clark Cup finals

FARGO – There was snow in April, so why not some hockey in the middle of May. Thanks to the Fargo Force’s run to the United States Hockey League Clark Cup finals to take on Dubuque, that’s exactly what Fargo is going to get.

The road hasn’t been easy for Fargo. And that’s the literal road, not a metaphor for the season.

The Force drove to Sioux Falls, S.D., Tuesday afternoon, won 7-4 in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Wednesday night and left for Dubuque, Iowa, immediately. They arrived Thursday just before 5 a.m. to prepare for today’s 7:35 p.m. best-of-5 championship series opener. Game 2 is set for 7:05 p.m. Saturday.

Games 3 and 4 are scheduled to be played Friday, May 17 and Saturday, May 18 in Fargo at Scheels Arena. A Game 5 would go back to Dubuque on Tuesday, May 21.

“We’re feeling a little tired,” said Force right winger Brendan Harms, who scored two goals in the Game 5 win after missing Game 4 with food poisoning. “We’re excited though, too. If you can’t get up for the Clark Cup (finals) then you shouldn’t get up.”

After arriving in Dubuque three hours earlier, the Force’s 7:30 a.m. breakfast felt more like dinner. It’s better than the alternative, which would be going home. Even the guy with food poisoning is hungry.

“It’s the Clark Cup, so you’re going to be pretty excited no matter when you play,” Harms said. “We’re happy here and we’re ready to get started.”

As for the metaphorical tough road, Fargo has now won two Game 5s in heart-pounding fashion. The first was an overtime win over Waterloo in which the Force tied the game with 3 minutes, 34 seconds left in regulation and after the Force had trailed 2-1 in the series. The second was Wednesday night’s win over Sioux Falls in which the Force went down 2-0 less than six minutes into the game. After scoring four unanswered goals, Sioux Falls tied it 4-4 less than seven minutes into the third period before the Force slammed the door with the game’s final three goals.

“I think we know how to play a Game 5,” said Force right winger Dave Gust, who has a league-high 15 points in the playoffs. “That’s two in a row for us, so if this goes to Game 5, it will be to our advantage.”

The road doesn’t get much easier, but the journey for champions never is. The Force get to play a Dubuque team that finished with six more points than any team in the USHL and has been done with their conference finals series since Saturday. The Fighting Saints have the Game 5 experience as well, as their conference finals series went the limit.

“(Dubuque) must be licking its chops,” Fargo Force coach John Marks said. “We’re coming off a grueling five-game series (against Sioux Falls), we had a grueling five-game series against Waterloo and now we’re playing versus a team that has almost had a complete week off.”

There’s only a small sample size between the two teams, as Dubuque and Fargo split the two games they played, but those games seem decades ago. The Fighting Saints beat the Force 2-0 in the Fargo’s third game of the season and the Force handed the Fighting Saints one of their 11 regular-season losses in regulation 4-2 Dec. 31.

“We’ve got to lace them up and try to muster up some emotion,” Marks said. “We have to try and survive these two. Ultimately, we’re trying to win one. If we win both, that would be a miracle. We’re going to give it our best shot before coming home.”

Harms was about to take a nap Thursday before the team’s skate in the afternoon. Although he was admittedly half awake and may have in fact been talking in his sleep, he clearly summed up all thoughts about the difficult road.

“It’s the Clark Cup,” Harms said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548