Force win in overtime

FARGO, N.D. (Fargo Force) -- What a way to make your debut! Newly-acquired defenseman Libor Zabransky scored his first USHL goal in his first game for the Force at the last possible second — quite literally — to earn Fargo a huge 4-3 overtime win over the visiting Sioux Falls Stampede inside a packed Scheels Arena Friday night.

The sellout crown of 4568 fans saw their hopes of a regulation win evaporate in front of them when the Stampede tied the game in the final ten seconds of normal time, only to explode when Zabransky swiped a loose puck into the Sioux Falls net to earn the full two points with 0.6 seconds left in OT.

“It’s hard because we were doing everything to get shots to the net, but luckily we were able to get the win,” Zabransky said.

It took almost half of regulation before either team found the back of the net, and it was the Force who started the scoring when Meyers got the puck in the slot and low glove for his first goal of the night. Michael Kesselring set up the play with a pinch from the right point and a perfect pass to the tape of Meyers. Xan Gurney also picked up an assist on the play.

Meyers struck again six minutes later when Hank Crone forced a turnover along the end boards and fed No. 27 for his USHL-leading 22nd goal of the season. The Force’s leading scorer sniped a perfect shot to the top right corner to double the lead with 4:11 left in the second period.

Meyers finished the game with a career-high 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) to extend his point streak to 14 games — the streak is the longest active streak in the USHL and the longest by a Force player this season. The longest point streak in the USHL this season is 15 games (Dubuque’s Matias Maccelli).

Two Sioux Falls goals in 1:06 put a damper on things and tied the game after two periods of play.

The Force took back the lead six minutes into the third period when Hank Crone took advantage of an out-of-position Stampede goalie and wrapped around for his 10th goal of the season.

Sioux Falls tied the game with 9.6 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, and the first four minutes of the extra period went by with chances both ways before the Stampede were called for a high-sticking penalty with 1:34 left.

Fargo passed the puck around and got several shots off before Sioux Falls tried to tie the puck up in the corner with half a minute left. The Force dug the puck loose and created a scramble in front of the net that Zabransky capitalized on for his game-winner. Josh Nodler and Ben Meyers each picked up assists on the power-play game-winner at 4:59 of overtime.

“It was kind of like the end of a prize fight where we’re both just slugging away,” head coach Cary Eades said. “At times both teams looked dead on their feet and then they got a jump, made a play. It was an exciting game to watch I’m sure, and it was an exciting game to be a part of. It’s a win that we needed badly.”

Ryan Bischel stopped 32 of 35 shots he faced to earn his 15th win of the season. Bischel broke the Force all-time minutes played record in the second period of tonight’s game. He has been on the ice for 4119 minutes, breaking the previous record of 4076 minutes set by Zane McIntyre (2010-12)

The Force climb to 18-12-3 with the win and remain in the six spot in the Western Conference, two points back of fifth place Sioux City. Fargo will have a chance to pick up two more points in the weekend series finale with Sioux Falls tomorrow night at Scheels Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

“We want to continually improve and try to inch our way up the standings,” Eades said. “But improvement’s our biggest thing. That’s what we have to continue to do, and you can’t improve unless you win some games and build confidence. Tonight was a big game and I’m sure tomorrow night will be a battle.”