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Beer: Lincoln coach disagrees with waved-off goal in loss to Force

Fargo's late tally gives it a 1-0 series lead in Western Conference final against Stars

Fargo Force's Kyle Smolen pressures Lincoln’s Cameron Whitehead during their USHL Western Conference finals Game 1 Thursday, May 4, 2023, at Scheels Arena.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

FARGO — It was 73 degrees outside Scheels Arena when the puck dropped Thursday night to start the Western Conference Finals between the Fargo Force and Lincoln.

After the game, Stars head coach Rocky Russo kept his temperature in check, being diplomatic, yet entirely convinced, his team put the puck in the net in the third period.

Instead, it was Fargo’s Cole Knuble who scored the game-winner with 44 seconds remaining in regulation, giving the Force a 1-0 win and similar series lead in this best-of-5 Western Conference final.

Early in the third, Stars players whacked away at the puck in front of Fargo goaltender Matej Marinov. The referee immediately waved the goal off as Lincoln awkwardly began to gather for a goal celebration in the left circle.

Oh yea, they put those A.I. cameras in for this series and it very clearly went in.
Lincoln head coach Rocky Russo

Even after the officials offered up their explanation to Russo at the Stars bench, the second-year Lincoln head coach remained steadfast after the game.


Russo wouldn’t share the contents of his conversation with the officiating crew, but said the goal was good. An observer pointed out after the game that maybe there was a whistle to stop play, but the puck appeared to remain loose in front of Marinov’s pads.

So it went in?

“Oh yea, they put those A.I. cameras in for this series and it very clearly went in,” Russo said. “But what we see on the video doesn’t matter. The referee has to make the decision he’s making in real time and he’s doing the best that he can.”

Fargo head coach Nick Oliver didn’t divulge whether or not it was a goal, saying he simply didn’t see it. “I just saw the ref wave it off right away.”

Certainly in a one-goal game where both goaltenders came up huge — a penalty shot save, a puck that Lincoln goaltender Cameron Whitehead shouldered on top of the net and Fargo’s Zam Plante nearly beating Whitehead on a third-period wrap-around — Russo said he wasn’t going to dwell on this outcome.

“It's maybe not the result we wanted, but like I said, no one won the series, no one lost the series. I’m going to forget about the results of this game when I walk out the door today,” he said.

Russo will think about trying to get his team to generate more scoring opportunities. He said they played too cute and with only 21 shots on goal, it was a different look than the past series at Scheels. Winning the regular season series 5-3, Lincoln swept the Force here with a late 4-3 win and a 3-0 victory in its last trip to south Fargo.

“We had some good chances,” Russo said. “Their goalie made a couple of saves. There's one that went and in the net that they didn't count. There's nothing we can really do about that. But, you know, for us, I think we were more of a shot-volume team. And I don't think we generated enough chances tonight. If we had, maybe we get a different result, maybe we don’t.”


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Marninov's 21 stops included knocking down that first-period penalty shot by Jack Larrigan.

“I'm proud of the way he fought and battled today and obviously he’s a big big reason why we got the job done,” Oliver said of his goaltender.

For all but 44 seconds, JP Turner was the only player to put anything in Lincoln's net — and that was himself without the puck after he crashed hard after an odd-man rush.

With a puck, however, both Knuble and Plante said postgame they felt like it was just a matter of time before they solved Whitehead. It just didn't look that way in the closing minutes.

Lincoln went on the power play with 3:13 left but quickly lost momentum to score the game’s first goal when Mason Marcellus and Tanner Ludtke were called for minors shortly thereafter, just enough time for Fargo to have a two-man advantage.

Fargo’s Mac Swanson couldn’t quite connect with Owen Mehlenbacher twice on the back door but Knuble powered in on Whitehead’s blocker side and found the tiniest of holes up high for the game-winner.

Lincoln's Cameron Whitehead defends against Fargo Force’s Owen Mehlenbacher during their USHL Western Conference finals Game 1 Thursday, May 4, 2023, at Scheels Arena.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

“I can think back to the last time Lincoln was here, we kind of let one slip from us in our building, which we don’t want to do,” Knuble said. “So it’s in our minds that we want payback, so that’s what we’re thinking about.”


The Force were swept by Lincoln in the last series at home. While Fargo put up a 42-22 record (plus-73 goal differential) in the regular season, it was 19-18 against .500 or better teams with plus-7 goal differential.

Now all those numbers can be tossed aside. It’s simply a 1-0 advantage for the Force.

“It’s just being on top, right?” Plante said. “Now they have to chase us, so it’s really a big win.”

Opinion by Rob Beer
Rob Beer is the digital content manager for Forum Communications. A journalist with Forum Communications since 1991, he is the editor of The Rink Live and helps cover the CCHA. He also assists with other content produced by Forum Communications.
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