The Fargo Force provided fireworks at the very beginning and very end of the playoff opener against Sioux City on Monday night at Scheels Arena. Minnesota commit Gabe Guertler scored 20 seconds into the game and Willie Corrin scored at the 2 minute, 42 second mark of overtime to give the Force a 2-1 victory in game one of the best-of-three series.
A majority of the announced crowd of 2,179 were still on the way to their seats when Guertler scored his first career playoff goal on the first shift of the game. Guertler stuck the puck past Matt Skoff on a wraparound to give the Force the all important early lead.
“I think it’s pretty huge that we came out pretty strong in the first 15 minutes,” Guertler said. “I think we dominated down low and I think it’s always a big thing to come out strong in the first game of a series.”
In fact, the Force dominated for long stretches during the first two periods thanks in large part to a solid effort from the top two lines. The experienced line of Bryn Chyzyk, Austin Farley and Colton Hargrove fired six shots on goal in the contest and picked up one assist.
The line of Guertler, David Gust, and Alex Iafallo was even better. The trio cycled the puck deep in the attacking zone and only spent limited time in the defensive zone during the game. The line has been intact for most of the year and that paid off in the playoff opener. The three USHL rookies combined for 15 shots on goal, with Gust leading the way with seven.
“They don’t have many negative shifts,” Force head coach John Marks said. “One of the things we track, [assistant coach] Terry Schercliffe, is a positive shift, an even shift, or a negative shift, and I think in the first period they didn’t have one negative shift and in the second they had one.”
After the first 20 seconds, the story of the game was really the two goaltenders. Fargo’s Zane Gothberg made some sensational saves and Skoff was Steady Eddy between the pipes to keep the score at 1-0 until the middle of the third period.
Kyle Criscuolo fired a shot on goal and Gothberg kicked out a rare rebound. Sioux City’s Tim O’Brien was Johnny on the spot and the puck found his stick and he slipped it passed a diving Gothberg to tie the game.
That set the stage for Corrin’s overtime heroics.
Early in the overtime session, after a 17-minute intermission, Willie Corrin scored what he called the biggest goal of his career to give the Force its second overtime win in postseason history. The other overtime victory came game-three against Omaha in year one.
Corrin, a former offensive-minded defenseman, has become a defense-first player who has picked up a majority of his points by way of the assist. Corrin scored just three times in the regular season, but added 23 assists. He admittedly found himself in an abnormal position in the overtime period.
After receiving a pass from Chyzyk, Corrin circled deep in the zone. He was so deep in the attacking end that he circled behind the net before he fired a hard, low shot from the low circle. He didn’t know it went in until Farley grabbed him and the celebration began.
“I just threw it on net,” Corrin said. “I knew Hargrove and Farley were somewhere and Chyzyk was somewhere close to the net. I was just hoping that it would hit something and bounce off and get a good rebound out and just get a grimy goal like we’ve got to get.”
Just like that, the Force took a 1-0 lead over Sioux City in the short best-of-three series. The Force will look to wrap up the series Tuesday night when they again host the Musketeers at 7:05 p.m. at Scheels Arena in Fargo.
“Right now, we’ve got one game that we have to worry about tomorrow,” Marks said. “These guys are all young, they’ve got to get some sleep, we’ve worked pretty hard.”
By: Tim How
Photo: mJoy Photography