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OT goal vaults Force in deciding Game 5

FARGO – There were storybook heroes all over the ice for Fargo in Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime Game 5 victory over Waterloo in front of 2,693 at Scheels Arena.

There was goalie Cam Johnson stopping 34 shots after finding out 10 minutes before the game that starting goalie Brendan Jensen took a puck to the knee during warmups, leaving Johnson to start.

There was Alex Iafallo, who remembers laying in bed in the summer after tearing his meniscus in his right knee at team tryouts tying the game with 3 minutes, 34 seconds left in regulation.

Then, there was Gabe Guertler. Part of a line referred to as the “small line” due to having no one above

5-foot-9, Guertler was a giant Wednesday. Guertler chipped a rebound over Waterloo goalie Eamon McAdam’s skate 6 minutes, 38 seconds into overtime to send the Force to the Western Conference finals to take on Sioux Falls.

Fargo won the best-of-5 Clark Cup first-round playoff series against Waterloo 3-2.

“I’ve had a few overtime goals, but this is my first one in the (United States Hockey League),” Guertler said. “This is by far my biggest goal. It’s Game 5, so obviously it’s a big goal.”

Fargo was less than four minutes away from becoming the first Force team to lose a first-round playoff series after four straight seasons of heading to the second round. Iafallo, however, had other plans, stuffing a rebound into the back of the net to tie it late in the third.

“I have to hand it to my linemates,” Iafallo said. “It was a great feeling. When I was laying in my bed in the summer, I was like, ‘Oh, man, this stinks,’ but I kept on working hard and got back.”

Johnson had never faced Waterloo and had not touched the ice in the four previous playoff games. When Jensen took a puck off his knee in warmups, Johnson knew it could be his game to play.

“I saw the shot that Jensen took off his leg, and I knew he was in pain, so I was kind of prepping myself,” Johnson said. “I prepare for every game as if I’m going to play. I was ready, but when they told me Game 5 was mine, there were some nerves. I just figured I’d go out there and play my game.”

It was not a good start for Johnson, as Mark Friedman netted a goal on Waterloo’s second shot just 43 seconds into the game.

“After that I was like, ‘Oh, God, not this,’” Johnson said. “I just battled back and shook it off. I didn’t really see it, so I didn’t pound on myself about it. I just let it go.”

Fargo answered back when Austin Ortega redirected a Chris Dienes shot seven minutes later.

Guertler gave Fargo a 2-1 lead 96 seconds into the second period, but Waterloo answered late. With a little less than two minutes remaining in the period, Ian McCoshen fired a shot into the back of the net to tie the game heading into the third period.

Zach Stepan put Waterloo up just more than seven minutes into the third period, but Iafallo notched his 10th point of the playoffs to send the game to overtime and the hero story ended with Guertler.

“It’s resiliency,” Fargo coach John Marks said. “It was character, character, character against a hell of a hockey team.”

Fargo will open the Western Conference finals Friday at Scheels Arena versus Sioux Falls.

FIRST PERIOD: 1, W, Friedman (Huntebrinker, McCoshen), 0:43. 2, F, Ortega (Dienes, Gust), 7:38

SECOND PERIOD: 3, F, Guertler (Gust, Buchanan), 1:36. 4, W, McCoshen (Kloos), 18:11

THIRD PERIOD: 5, W, Stepan (12, 6), 7:17. 6, F, Iafallo (Dienes, Harms), 16:26

OVERTIME: 7, F, Guertler (Gust), 6:38

SAVES: F, Johnson 11-7–14-2-34. W, McAdam 16-11-15-3–45

A: 2,693

Article written by Chris Murphy of the Forum News Service

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