FARGO, N.D. — The Force rode three first-period goals to a 4-2 Friday night win over Team USA in front of 3,260 fans at Scheels Arena. Tristan Broz scored his first USHL goal and the Force scored twice on the power play to secure the win.
Despite outshooting Team USA 9-1 to start the game, the U17s found the back of the net midway through the first period during the second of two power play chances. Hunter Strand slapped a loose puck in front past Tyler Johnson in the Force net to give the visitors a 1-0 lead with 7:05 left in the first.
Johnson played a solid game in the crease for Fargo. He stopped 20 of 22 shots he faced to earn his third win with the Force this season.
Three unanswered goals from Ethan Frisch, Tristan Broz, and AJ Drobot in just under three minutes to finish the first period gave the Force all the momentum moving into the second period. Fargo outshot Team USA 18-4 in the opening frame.
Frisch’s goal, a wrister from the point that deflected off a Team USA player trying to block the shot and fluttered past USA goalie Noah Grannan, tied the game at a goal apiece at 14:38 of the first period. Justin Lee and Aaron Huglen picked up assists on the goal, Frisch’s first at Scheels Arena for the Force.
“It’s good to bounce back from that one they got,” Frisch said. “I was in the box for that, actually. I owed that one to my team. Going forward in that period we put in a couple more and that got us momentum for the rest of the game.”
Tristan Broz, playing on the Force’s top line in place of the suspended Hank Crone, grabbed his first career USHL goal in his fourth game with Fargo when he picked up a pass from Ben Meyers as the third forward into the zone, made a move to his backhand, and beat Grannan to slot the puck into a yawning net. Meyers and Jeremy Davidson each assisted on the goal.
“I just try to go out there and play my game, not try to fill his shoes necessarily,” Broz said. “I came up here last weekend and played a couple games and practiced with the boys, so that kind of helped me get that experience at the USHL level. So coming up here for the second weekend is not quite as tough.”
With momentum on their side, the Force got a break a few moments later when Drobot’s shot from the left circle ricocheted off Grannan’s glove and into the net. The unassisted goal at 17:22 of the first gave Fargo the 3-1 lead they would take into the intermission.
Neither team scored in the second, and the Force’s Czech contingent made sure things went Fargo’s way in the end.
Libor Zabransky, Ondrej Pavel, and Adam Gajarsky teamed up midway through the third to deliver a fourth for the Force and take the game out of reach for Team USA. Zabransky played the puck down the wall, Pavel wrapped it around in front, and Gajarsky buried it in front for his fourth goal of the season. The goal at 7:54 of the third period gave Fargo a three-goal cushion.
The U17s got a goal back late in the third period, but they couldn’t get much of a comeback started late in regulation. Fargo wrapped up the win to remain unbeaten in regulation in their past four games. The Force remain tied for fourth in the Western Conference with Des Moines — each team has 71 points, but the Buccaneers do have a game in hand — with two games left in the regular season.
“I think it’s huge,” Frisch said of the prospect of home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. “We do what we do. It’s out of our control if Des Moines loses or not, so we’ll wait and see, but doing what we do is going to be huge for us in these last two games. If we get home ice that’s great, if we don’t we’ll meet Des Moines in their barn.”
The fourth place team will host the fifth place team in the first round of the Clark Cup Playoffs.
“You want to finish as high as you can,” head coach Cary Eades said. “Obviously home ice gives you a little bit of an advantage, but we’ve been a good road team all year. We’re happy we’re making the playoffs and we want to be playing well. We’re getting a little healthier here. We can control only what we can control, and that’s winning hockey games and playing smart, intelligent hockey. That’s what we did tonight.”
The Force will play their final regular season game at Scheels Arena tomorrow night as they finish the weekend series against Team USA. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. The first 1,000 fans at Scheels Arena will receive a 2018-19 team photo and more prizes will be given out throughout the game.