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Fargo set to play in sixth Clark Cup Final with sixth different head coach

Since the franchise began in 2008-09, the Force have reached the Clark Cup Final more than any United States Hockey League team.

Fargo Force forward Mac Swanson, center, celebrates his third period goal against Sioux Falls with teammates Leo Gruba (5) and Kyle Smolen (17) at Scheels Arena on Friday, April 21, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

FARGO — The Fargo Force began operations in the 2008-09 season.

Their head coach that inaugural year was Dean Blais.

Blais led the Force to a surprising appearance in the United States Hockey League's Clark Cup Final in Year 1. It was a sign of things to come.

Beginning this weekend, Fargo will play in the Clark Cup Final for the sixth time. Game 1 of the best-of-five series against the Youngstown Phantoms is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Friday in Scheels Arena. Game 2 is 6:05 p.m. Saturday.

Since Fargo entered the league, no team has reached the final more often. In fact, no other franchise has been to more than three Clark Cup Finals in that span (Dubuque, Chicago and Green Bay have each done it three times).


Even more unique, each finals trip has been with a different coach behind the bench.

Blais did it in 2009. Steve Johnson did it in 2010. John Marks did it in 2013. Cary Eades did it in 2018. Pierre-Paul Lamoureux did it in 2021. This year, it's Nick Oliver in his first year behind the bench.

Oliver was a member of the inaugural Force team. So was his assistant head coach, Chad Demers.

"This is Demmy's fourth time reaching the finals — twice as a player, twice as a coach," Oliver said. "Having been there, having gone through it as a player, gives you perspective as a coach. The main focus needs to stay narrow for what we're doing to prepare for the games. When you get to this point in the year, a lot of outside noise comes with it — and deservingly so. But our focus needs to be on our preparation and how we're getting ready for Youngstown."

In the previous five trips to the Clark Cup Final, Fargo has won it once.

In 2018, the Force beat Youngstown in the final. Former UND defenseman Ty Farmer scored the Clark Cup-clinching goal.

The Fighting Hawks are guaranteed to have another Clark Cup champion this season with a recruit on each team — forward Mac Swanson for the Fargo Force and defenseman Andrew Strathmann for the Youngstown Phantoms.

Swanson is the top scorer in the playoffs for Fargo. He has 10 points in six postseason games.


Strathmann is the third-leading playoff scorer for Youngstown. He was named the top defenseman of the conference finals.

Fargo won the Anderson Cup as the USHL's top regular-season team.

Only one team has won both the Anderson Cup and the Clark Cup in the same season since 2013 — the 2021 Chicago Steel.

"I'm proud of this group for setting their sights early in the year — all the way back when we first got together Sept. 1 — on where they want to be," Oliver said. "They've continued to get better. Now, they have a chance to go out and fight for their goal. It's cool to be a part of."

Clark Cup Finals appearances since 2008-09

6 — Fargo Force
3 — Dubuque Fighting Saints
3 — Green Bay Gamblers
3 — Chicago Steel
2 — Waterloo Black Hawks
2 — Sioux City Musketeers
2 — Youngstown Phantoms
2 — Sioux Falls Stampede

Recent UND Clark Cup champions

2022 Sioux City — Dylan James, Owen McLaughlin
2021 Chicago — Jackson Blake, Jake Livanavage
2020 — no playoff held
2019 Sioux Falls — none
2018 Fargo — Mark Senden, Ty Farmer
2017 Chicago — Matt Kiersted
2016 Tri-City — Andrew Peski

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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