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Force Top Tri-City in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals – InForum

FARGO – Michael La Starza buried two power-play goals to lift the Fargo Force over the Tri-City Storm on Saturday night.

The Force beat Tri-City 3-1 in the first game of the Western Conference Semifinals before a sold-out crowd of 4,626 at Scheels Arena. Game 2 of the series is Monday, April 22 at 7:05 PM in Fargo.

“Winning the first game is very important in setting the tone for our series,” said La Starza. “That’s a big one.”

LaStarza scored his first power-play goal at the 17 minute, 24 second mark of the first period on assists from Mac Swanson and Michael Quinn. LaStarza converted a rebound shot.

LaStarza scored another power-play goal at 6:17 of the third period. The Force led 3-1 after Swanson found LaStarza’s backdoor to score his second goal of the night.

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Fargo’s Michael LaStarza fires a shot past Tri-City goalie Cameron Korpi for a third period goal at Scheels Arena on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

David Samson/The Forum

LaStarza was quick to say his performance was a product of the team’s dynamic power-play unit, with Swanson serving as a catalyst.

“It’s Mac Swanson,” La Starza said. “He can find the seam so easily. All the other guys in my unit work so well. I just get the charity at the end and get to utilize it.

Fargo was 2-3 on the power play on Saturday. Force head coach Brett Skinner said his team needed a well-rounded performance on special teams, with Tri-City having a strong penalty kill.

“You have to be able to break the pressure,” Skinner said. “We did that well, especially in the power game. Some really nice plays from our guys.”

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Fargo’s Zam Plante (7) celebrates his first period goal against Tri-City on Saturday, April 20, 2024 at Scheels Arena.

David Samson/The Forum

Force forward Zam Plante buried the game’s first goal at the 6:50 mark of the first period. Plante played a rebound shot off his skate to beat Storm goalkeeper Cameron Korpi from the top shelf. Harper Bentz assisted on the goal.

Tri-City cut the Force lead to 2-1 at 14:14 of the second period. Storm forward Ryan Smith collected a back-kick pass from Artemi Nizameyev and scored a goal from the far post.

Fargo netminder Hampton Slukynsky stopped 23 shots to record the win. Tri-City’s Cameron Korpi had 37 saves for the Storm.

Tri-City played six games in the last nine days. Storm head coach Anthony Noreen said the extra games may have been a reason for a slow start.

“I thought we just didn’t have a lot of jumps,” Noreen said. “I don’t think it was a lack of will or want, I just thought we looked a little slow on the jump.”

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Tri-City’s Ryan Smith fires a shot past Fargo Force goalie Hampton Slukynsky in the second period at Scheels Arena on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

David Samson/The Forum

The Force finished with a 50-10-2 record in the regular season. The two teams faced each other in the Western Conference semifinals last season. The Force won the series 2-0, including a 3-2 overtime win at Scheels Arena.

Between faster races to the puck and frequent skirmishes in front of the net, it felt like playoff hockey on the ice and on the bench, La Starza said.

“It’s definitely faster and a more mature game,” La Starza said. “You’re trying to wear the other team down.”

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Fargo’s Mac Swanson is hit by Tri-City’s Brandt Harper and Cameron Korpi on Saturday, April 20, 2024 at Scheels Arena.

David Samson/The Forum

The Force is prepared to prevent a possible disappointment, Skinner said.

“They’re going to make some adjustments,” Skinner said. “We have to be ready to counter that.”

“Hopefully we will gain a little bit of confidence, but not too much,” La Starza added. “We (must) stay sober.”

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Fargo goalie and Hampton Slukynsky goalie and Brasen Boser stop Tri-City’s Artemi Nizameyev at Scheels Arena on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

David Samson/The Forum

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Fargo’s Michael Lastarza celebrates his first period goal against Tri-City at Scheels Arena on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

David Samson/The Forum

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Fargo’s Michael Neumeier takes a hit from Tri-City’s Ryan Smith at Scheels Arena on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

David Samson/The Forum

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Fargo’s Harper Bentz and Tri-City’s August Falloon battle for the puck at Scheels Arena on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

David Samson/The Forum

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Fargo’s Leo Gruba keeps Tri-City’s Cam Briere in check at Scheels Arena on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

David Samson/The Forum

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Fargo’s Michael LaStarza fires a shot past Tri-City goalie Cameron Korpi on Saturday, April 20, 2024, at Scheels Arena.

David Samson/The Forum

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Fargo goalie Hampton Slukynsky will be introduced for the game against Tri-City at Scheels Arena on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

David Samson/The Forum

Andreas Haugland

After graduating from North Dakota State University, Haugland joined the Forum in January 2023. Readers can reach him at 701-241-5508 or by emailing [email protected]

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