Chris Murphy, Published January 31 2014
Force snap 17-game winless streak with win over OmahaFARGO – Something happened Friday at Scheels Arena to the Fargo Force that hadn’t happened in more than two months: The Force won a game.
“I don’t know how to react because it’s been so long,” Fargo coach John Marks said. “I’m really happy for the guys to finally win a hockey game, because it’s been a long time.”
After 17 winless games, the Force won 5-2 over an Omaha team with the second-most points in the United States Hockey League. They did it against goalies ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the league in save percentage and goals-against average – sending one of them to the showers early – after scoring three goals on their first 12 shots.
Mason Morelli’s power-play goal in the first period was against a team with an 89.6 percent success rate on the penalty kill, ranked the best in the USHL. It gave the Force (6-26-4) their first lead in eight games, which was pushed to 3-0 before Omaha could answer.
“We got the monkey off our back, and I feel like everyone contributed tonight,” Morelli said. “Even though it was only our sixth win, I feel like we have a lot of bright spots ahead.”
In his second game in net with the Force, Mathias Israelsson outdueled the best goalies in the USHL, making 45 saves. The stats said one thing about the Omaha (27-9-4) goalies, but Israelsson said another, after both Lancers goaltenders combined to give up four goals on 22 shots.
“I’ve seen them a couple times and I’m not that impressed,” said Israelsson, who was traded to Fargo from Waterloo earlier this season. “To come together and do this as a group is amazing. It’s hard to get out of a bad circle that has been going on, but, finally, we’re out of it and we can start new tomorrow.”
According to Force general manager Jon Kram, there will always be a tomorrow for the Force, despite Friday being their first win since Nov. 27. Even after the win, Fargo is still entrenched at the bottom of the USHL.
“The Force aren’t going anywhere,” Kram said. “We have some really good promotions and stable games. We feel really good that our fans will come out and focus on the entertainment more so than the hockey on the ice.”
For a team that has made the playoffs in all five years of existence, including three trips to the Clark Cup Finals, and has never lost in the first round, the idea of being the worst team in the league is unfamiliar.
“It’s new ground for all of us,” Kram said. “This is a time for us to reflect and look at all our processes. We will win some games, but we also want to figure out how to retain our season-ticket holders.”
The chances of the Force topping their average attendance from last season are slim, which would make this the first season their average attendance did not increase in the team’s sixth year in the USHL. Currently, the Force are drawing 3,445 per game, which is fourth in the league after being second in the league last season with an average of 3,902.
Kram has no fear as the season goes on. As the Force’s fate becomes closer and closer to set in stone, the crowds will likely diminish. There were 3,850 in attendance Friday.
“We’ve been fortunate having the crowd we still have,” Kram said. “We think we still have a chance to get even more because usually after Christmas is the better part of the attendance numbers. Our fans said it’s still fun to come.”
FIRST PERIOD: 1, F, Morreli (Baiocco, Eyssimont), 16:31, (pp).
SECOND PERIOD: 2, F, Eyssimont (Morelli, Baiocco), 10:16. 3, F, McDonald (Piotrowski), 13:16.
THIRD PERIOD: 4, O, Frigo (Vesel), 6:46. 5, F, Rowe (Piotrowski), 9:04. 6, O, Tait, 15:34. 7, F, Rowe, 18:47, (en).
SAVES: O, Bruns 3-6–x–9. O, Hawkey x-1-8–9. F, Israelsson 11-18-16–47.
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Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548