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Chris Murphy, Published May 17 2013

Dubuque clinches Clark Cup with OT win over Fargo

FARGO – There was silence.

After eight months of hockey, all that was left in the Fargo Force locker room after a 3-2 loss in overtime of Game 3 to Dubuque was silence. In the distance, the sounds of the Fighting Saints hoisting the United States Hockey League’s Clark Cup after a sweep in the best-of-5 series echoed through the tunnel from which the Force marched into battle 38 times at Scheels Arena.

“Dubuque is a good hockey team. That’s why they are the champions,” Fargo coach John Marks said. “They were the top team defensively all year, and they showed how hard they are to play against and score against. Obviously, you wish this and you wish that, but the thing is you can’t wish it, you have to earn it.”

Fargo had stared down elimination three times before Friday night and didn’t blink an eye. The fourth time proved to be too much for the Force

“The previous two series took a lot out of us,” Marks said. “But you have to respect Dubuque. They were the best team in the regular season, and they proved they were the best team in the playoffs.”

Fargo was 3 minutes, 34 seconds away from dropping the deciding Game 5 in the first round versus Waterloo before Alex Iafallo sent it to overtime, where the Force clinched a spot in the Western Conference finals after trailing the series 2-1.

In the Western Conference finals, the Force had to win two out of three games in Sioux Falls to punch their ticket to the Clark Cup championship series. They did that.

In Game 3 of the Clark Cup championship, with elimination seconds away, the Force struck again.

Just like the first-round series, it was Iafallo who kept the season alive, scoring with 29.9 seconds left in the third period on a backhander to send the game to overtime.

The magic, however, ran out, as Frankie Dichiara found the back of the net a little more than eight minutes into overtime to give Dubuque its second Clark Cup championship in three years. It was just the third of 43 shots Force goalie Cam Johnson let through.

“We never quit,” Fargo center Dominic Toninato said. “There’s a lot of character on this team and a lot of heart. We battled this entire season and never gave up in any game.”

Fargo came into Friday’s game scoreless in its previous 19 power-play chances. Austin Ortega fixed that 10 seconds into the Force’s first power play to give them a 1-0 lead midway through the first.

Dubuque answered in the second period on a rebound goal for Brandon Carlson to tie things up headed into the third period.

The Fighting Saints got a power-play goal of their own just more than eight minutes into the final frame off the stick of Shane Sooth before Iafallo’s game-tying goal with the extra attacker sent the game to overtime.

The sweep marked the third time in Fargo’s five years of existence the Force fell in the Clark Cup finals.

“It’s been a great year,” Marks said. “The wins, the points, the record attendance and we got a lot of kids going to college. There’s a lot of things to be proud of, but, ultimately, you want to win the championship. Sad thing is all the good things get kind of erased when you don’t win the championship.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, F, Ortega (Buchanan), 11:30 (pp).

SECOND PERIOD: 2, D, Carlson (Sevens), 2:48.

THIRD PERIOD: 3, D, Sooth, 8:05 (pp). 4, F, Iafallo, 19:31.

OVERTIME: 5, D, Dichiara (Sooth), 8:17.

SAVES: F, Johnson 12-9-16-3–40. D, Brey 8-11-6-4–29.

A: 3,480

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