FARGO – Fargo left winger Austin Ortega called his goal Wednesday in front of 2,309 at Scheels Arena the biggest goal of his career. In a tied playoff game with 95 seconds left, they don’t get much bigger.
“This is the highest level I’ve played, and on this stage, it had to be my biggest goal,” Ortega said.
After Waterloo tied the game on its second power-play goal, the Force played the next couple of shifts as though they were devastated and overtime seemed imminent. That was until Gabe Guertler fired the puck toward the net and Ortega was there to slam it home to give the Force a 3-2 win in Game 1 of the best-of-5 first-round series of the Clark Cup playoffs.
“Obviously we never wanted them to come back,” Ortega said. “We really just didn’t let down and we bounced back, worked hard and a good bounce came my way. That was a big-time goal for me.”
Ortega, Guertler and Dave Gust are referred to as the “small line,” but that is only based off their stature. Although none of them are taller than 5-foot-9, the trio played huge in Wednesday’s game, each scoring a goal to go along with two assists from Guertler.
The small line wasn’t the only one feeling tiny after the United States Hockey League’s points leader Taylor Cammarata tied the game with five minutes to go.
“It hurt,” Guertler said. “We took two dumb penalties at the end of the game, and they are one of the best power-play teams in the league. We came back and scored, which was great for the team. My linemates did quite a bit, and I couldn’t have done anything without them.”
The Black Hawks are the best power-play team in the league, converting on more than 25 percent of their power-play chances. Zach Stepan opened the scoring for the Black Hawks on the man-advantage 11 minutes, 17 seconds into the game.
“If you give them an inch, they are going to capitalize,” Fargo coach John Marks said. “We have to stay out of the box. Five-on-five we played pretty good. The first call I thought was questionable, but the other two we tripped their players. We have to take care of our sticks. In a 2-1 game, in the third period, we take two penalties against a team like that? That’s just the kiss of death. But we found a way to win.”
Guertler answered midway through the second to tie things up, and Gust gave the Force the lead four minutes later.
“Everyone was feeling good, and we had some positive energy until they tied it up,” Gust said. “Our next few shifts weren’t that good, but we were able to pop one in there and win the game.”
With the win, Fargo remains a perfect 11-0 in first-round playoff games in its five trips to the Clark Cup playoffs.
“This was huge, and it gives us a lot of momentum,” Oretga said. “We have a lot of confidence going into the rest of the series. We know what we need to do after this game. We need to play smarter and stay out of the box.”
Game 2 is Friday at Scheels Arena.
FIRST PERIOD: 1, W, Stepan (McCoshen, Leibinger), 11:17 (pp).
SECOND PERIOD: 2, F, Guertler (Goff, Iafallo) 9:19. 3, F, Gust (Guertler), 13:23.
THIRD PERIOD: 4, W, Cammarata, 14:52 (pp). 5, F, Ortega (Guertler), 18:25.
SAVES: F, Jensen 7-7-12–26. W, Petersen 13-7-7-–27.
Article written by Chris Murphy of the Forum News Service