Force not taking Tri-City lightly, despite Storm's recent struggles
FARGO—The quest for something the Fargo Force have coveted for a decade begins Tuesday at Scheels Arena at 7:05 p.m. The Force begin a best-of-three series against Tri-City in the first round of the United States Hockey League playoffs in search of the franchise's first Clark Cup title. It's their seventh playoff appearance.
"We're one of 12 teams that can win the Clark Cup," Force coach Cary Eades said. "We're excited about that, but our first opponent is Tri-City and we got to play well Tuesday, Wednesday. Got to win two games. Whether it takes two, whether it takes three, we just want to survive and advance."
Every advantage goes to the No. 3 seed Force in this series. The Force have won 11 of 12 and five in a row, while No. 6 seed Tri-City has lost nine in a row. The Force won three out of four against Tri-City this season with the one loss being 2-1 in overtime.
That overtime win for Tri-City was a perfect representation of the Storm. Tri-City goalie and Detroit Red Wings draft pick Filip Larsson stopped 41 shots in that win and the Storm found just enough scoring. Larsson has been out with an injury since Feb. 24 and the Storm have lost 14 of the 16 games since.
"He was a good player for them," Force winger Ben Meyers said. "We were able to solve him a little bit when we played him, but at the same time he's a draft pick and we really know what he brings to the table."
The Storm relied heavily on Larsson. Tri-City has scored eight less goals than any team in the USHL, 35 less than any playoff team and 71 less than the Force. The leading scorer for the Storm is defenseman Bryan Yoon with 35 points. The Force have six players with more points. On top of everything, the Force are at home for the entire series.
Weirder things have happened in playoff hockey.
"They've had their struggles lately, but like everybody, they're going to wipe their grease board clean tomorrow," Eades said. "Everybody is 0-0. We've had enough lessons this year, as far as not being ready to play 60 minutes. They're a team you don't want to fall behind on. They're well structured defensively. We got to play really solid hockey against them and be ready at the drop of the puck. Our record is out the window. Their record is out the window."
The Force were officially eliminated from a chance at getting a first-round bye Saturday. There was some disappointment, but there really isn't much more the Force could've done. They went 18-4-1 in their last 23 games.
"We did everything we could, but no one really beat Omaha or Waterloo," Force winger Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup said. "They did the same thing. We did what we could. It ended up not working out, but I'm sure we'll bring it to Tri-City, and hopefully we'll beat Omaha when we go there."
The Force will play a lot of hockey this week. With a snowstorm pushing the finale of their regular season to Sunday, the Force will at the very least have to play three hockey games in four days. If they win the Tri-City series in three games, and the Omaha series opens Saturday and Sunday, the Force will play six games in an eight-day period.
For the Force, playing a lot of hockey is better than the alternative.
"We've played so many games all year," Schmidt-Svejstrup said. "I don't think it's going to mean a whole lot honestly. I don't think there's going to be a big difference. I think the boys are going to be ready to go. Boys are really pumped up for playoffs, so I think everybody is going to be ready to go and everybody is going to have a lot of fun."
The fun begins Tuesday.
"Everyone is just so amped up and ready to play," Force defenseman Spencer Meier said. "Every play matters because it's do or die and you want to win the Clark Cup, which is our goal."