The Fargo Force took Game 1 of the USHL's Clark Cup Finals with a dramatic 2-1 victory over the Indiana Ice. The Force trailed 1-0 heading into the third period, but tied the game midway through the third period, and scored the game winner in the final minute of regulation.
Both teams in the final are a nice story. Indiana had a couple rough years before a resurrection this year under new head coach Jeff Blashill. Granted, it's a little easier to have a big turnaround in junior hockey with such high turnover every season, but it's still a pretty impressive job by Blashill, who left an assistant coaching position at Miami to take the Ice head job.
And then there is the expansion Force, led by former UND head coach Dean Blais. The Force looked like they might be a typical expansion team during the preseason, but they found a way to turn things around, and now at the end of the year, they are playing as well as anyone. Probably the biggest factor has been the play of goalie Mike Lee. The Force have given up over 30 shots per game in all but one of their playoff games, and Lee has put up a .951 save percentage. Lee was a standout at Roseau, but was playing with a great team in front of him. This year, he's proven that he can carry a team if need be.
The other factor in Fargo's success that gets overlooked is the contribution from the holdovers from the ill-fated Ohio Blue Jackets team. Luke Witkowski and Steve Spinell have been leaders on the blueline, while Matt Leitner and Andy Taranto combined for over 110 points during the regular season. Eamonn McDermott, another key piece of the blueline was originally selected by his homestate Blue Jackets in the USHL Future's Draft.
If Game 1 was any indication, this series should be a classic with some very tightly-contested goaltender's duels throughout the way.