Fargo Force goaltender issue a good one
Fargo's Matej Marinov and Anton Castro rank Nos. 1 and 2 in goals-against for the league's top team.
FARGO — It's great when a hockey team has the top goaltender in the league, but if the team has two it's an embarrassment of riches.
The Fargo Force are blessed that both of their netminders are tops in the United States Hockey League. Matej Marinov currently sits atop the league with a 1.96 goals against average and Anton Castro is just below with a 2.36 GAA.
Marinov is 11-0 with two shootout losses and a .925 save percentage in 13 games. Castro is 10-7 with a shootout loss and a .909 save percentage in 18 games. Marinov has been named the USHL's Goaltender of the Week twice and Castro has earned the honor once.
For the two goalies, holding the top two spots in the league is a feat they don't take lightly. All the hard work in practice and in the off-season has produced the desired results.
"It's the best feeling," Marinov said. "That's what we want. It was a goal before the season and we have it now. Let's continue on the same job we did in the second half of the season, too."
"That's what we've been working for," Castro. "It definitely helps having (the team) in front of us. And it's good to have a goalie partner that pushes you and makes it fun to come to the rink every day."
The Force currently lead the league with 74 goals against, an average of 2.39 per game. The Lincoln Stars and their stellar goalie Cameron Whitehead, who ranks third in the league with a 2.41 GAA, are second with 78 goals allowed (2.60 per game). No other team is within 10 goals of the Stars.
Little wonder the Force have the USHL's top record with 45 points and the Stars are third with 41 points.
Fargo is planning to use its two stars as a one-two punch throughout the season.
"It's really nice to have two goaltenders that the team and staff is comfortable in to win you games," said Cary Eades, the Force's general manager and director of hockey operations.
Eades said "only time will tell" whether one goaltender will earn more starts than the other. But he noted that a change wouldn't be out of the question.
"At some time in the season, I would imagine we'll ride one more than the other," Eades said. "You know it's a really nice problem, but we'll let their play dictate our plan."
Marinov made his first start since Dec. 11 and made 24 saves in Fargo's 6-3 win over Sioux Falls on Friday, Jan. 13. Marinov, born in Nitra, Slovakia, missed time representing his home country in the 2023 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.
"It was an amazing experience," Marinov said on his World Junior experience. "I'm really happy and proud that I could be there and a part of the team."
This year's World Junior Tournament was Marinov's last chance to participate in the U-19 event.
Castro, from Mendota Heights, Minn., made 25 saves in Fargo's 2-1 win over Sioux City on Saturday, Jan. 14. Castro started during Marinov's international stint and went 4-2, with the two losses coming Jan. 6-7 at Lincoln. He said it was nice to get a lot of starts, but with Marinov back, it's time to embrace the platoon system again.
"It was fun being able to play a lot," Castro said. "But now that he's back, I think now we're just focusing on trying to win and getting into the playoffs and making a run."
Last season, the Force were eliminated from the playoffs with back-to-back losses to the Omaha Lancers. The team is hopeful that the experience will better prepare their squad to make a run in the second half of the season.
Carter Krier, the Force's goaltenders coach for the Force, has worked with the duo during the past two seasons and said he likes the way the pair are wired.
"Both of them are competitors," Krier said. "They make our team better. They push each other. They do all the little things right, which makes it easy for us as coaches to have trust in them, and it makes it easy for the team to play in front of them."
Krier said his coaching plan hasn't changed despite their successes this season.
"I think whether they're the top two two or the bottom two, the goal is the same, and that's just to prepare them for the weekend," Krier said. "I just want to make sure that these guys have the tools and the resources to be ready to give our team the best chance to win."
Both Castro and Marinov said they like the culture of the team and the community of Fargo for coming out and supporting the Force. But the duo said they really aren't fans of the North Dakota winters.
"It's really amazing here," Marinov said. "I've enjoyed my time so much here. I love everything here, but maybe not so much the weather."
"It feels like home," Castro said. "The people here are great, the fans are great. We have super nice rink, a good staff and a good team."
Both have received offers from collegiate teams but have not announced any commitments. The pair maintain a solid relationship, whether it's spending nights in a hotel room on road trips, or getting extra reps before practice.
"We're always going on the ice early getting goalie practice in," Castro said. "We're always together. We have a really good relationship."