FARGO, N.D. — Nine players picked up points, Ben Meyers continued his point streak, and Matt Sankner earned his third win of the season as the Force completed the weekend sweep of the Green Bay Gamblers with a 4-2 win Saturday night at Scheels Arena.
“We knew Green Bay was going to be better tonight,” head coach Cary Eades said. “They’ve got a lot of pride and a good coaching staff, so we were tested. I liked our response to both their goals. We scored shortly after both of them and that’s the kind of resiliency and character you need.”
Fargo’s 16th win of the season puts them within striking distance of the Western Conference leaders. The Force are just two points behind fourth place Sioux Falls with an even 29 games played for either team.
Despite going down early, it took Fargo all of 29 seconds to equalize after the Gamblers took the game’s first lead midway through the first period. Those 29 seconds would be the totality of Green Bay’s time ahead tonight.
After the visitors put together a tic-tac-toe passing play to take a 1-0 lead on their first shot of the game, the Force pulled of a nifty play of their own in front of the Green Bay goal that Christoffer Bjork capitalized on for his third goal of the season. Ondrej Pavel and Zach Faremouth picked up assists on the Swede’s goal at 10:24 of the initial frame.
The Force took their first lead of the game at the 9:28 mark of the second period when AJ Drobot slid a shot under the right pad of the Gamblers’ goaltender on a breakaway opportunity set up by Ryan O’Reilly. The captain has two goals in his last two games.
The two teams traded goals in the final three minutes of the second period, but the Force held on to a one-goal lead after 40 minutes.
Green Bay’s Braden Costello snuck a shot between the pad of Matt Sankner and the post at 17:36 of the second to tie the game at two before Ben Meyers pounded home a chance in front of the net a minute later to give the Force a 3-2 lead. Xan Gurney and Hank Crone picked up assists as Meyers stretched his point streak to 10 games on his USHL-leading 20th goal of the season.
Meyers is now tied for third on the Force goalscoring list with Jack Adams (2016-17). Each have 45 tallies in a Fargo uniform.
It took until the midway point of the third period for either team to get a chance on the power play, and the Force capitalized on their chance to extend the lead to two goals.
Mason Salquist caught the Green Bay goalie looking the other way and slipped a shot into the far corner for his first career USHL goal. Meyers and Crone assisted on the power-play goal at 11:20 of the third period.
“You gotta credit coach Shuchuk at Janesville for really developing him,” Eades said. “He’s a player that we formerly drafted, has been to a couple of our camps, and obviously is from Grand Forks, so we’re pretty familiar with him. His game took a real nice step the three or four months Gary had him. He’s been a nice boost to our team and that was a great play.”
Goaltender Matt Sankner stopped 17 of 18 shots he faced in the final two periods and 20 of 22 in the game to earn his third USHL win in his fifth appearance of the season.
“He’s the epitome of a team player,” Eades said. “He hadn’t played in two months, but he’s been working hard in practice and the guys rallied around him. He showed resiliency too, that was a backdoor tap-in for his first goal allowed on the first shot he faced. He didn’t have a chance to settle in but he didn’t panic and made some real timely saves.”
The Force advance to 16-10-3 on the season with the win and sit in sixth place in the Western Conference with 35 points. Fargo sits one point behind Sioux City for fifth place, two points behind Sioux Falls for fourth, and seven back of Waterloo for third. The Force have two games in hand over the Black Hawks.
After a brief break for the 2019 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Lincoln, Neb. on Tuesday — Josh Nodler and Cedric Fiedler will represent the Force in the contest for 2019 NHL Draft-eligible prospects — the Force will return to Scheels Arena on Thursday for a two-game series against the Sioux City Musketeers to wrap up the seven-game homestand. Puck drop for both Thursday and Friday nights’ games will be at 7:05 p.m.