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Youngstown rides stiff defense to win over Force in Clark Cup opener

The Phantoms scored four third-period goals to upend Fargo Force in Game 1 of the Clark Cup Final on Friday.

Fargo Force goalie Anton Castro stops a shot by Youngstown's Jake Rozzi during Game 1 of the Clark Cup Finals at Scheels Arena on Friday, April 21, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

FARGO — The Fargo Force were left dry offensively on Friday night.

Outside of Anthony Menghini’s late-goal with 58 seconds left in the contest, finding the back of the net was difficult.

The Force fell to the Youngstown Phantoms 4-1 in front of 4,119 at Scheels Arena. Youngstown leads 1-0 in the five game championship series.

The Phantom’s net-minder Jacob Fowler proved a tough puzzle to solve. Fowler stopped all but one of Fargo’s 30 shots.

“(Fowler) has been a constant for us all year,” said Youngstown head coach Ryan Ward. “He settles things down and he’s very cool in the net. He's a great leader and I thought he did a great job tonight.”


Fowler led the USHL with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. Fargo's Anton Castro was third behind teammate Matej Marinov with a 2.40 GAA and a .914 save percentage.

The first two periods unfolded about as could have been expected from teams with the Nos. 1 and 2 ranked defenses in the league and the Nos. 1 and 3 ranked goalies.

In the playoffs, Castro entered Friday's game with a league-best 1.09 GAA and a .967 save percentage while Fowler was second at 1.66 and .943.

The Force goaltender blocked 20 shots from the Phantoms, who constantly swarmed the net and snagged rebounds.

“We have a deep team that can attack it in different ways,” the Phantom coach said.

Fargo’s defense in the first and second periods played a key role in keeping Youngstown within reach.

“(Castro) made some pretty big saves when we got some breakdowns in our line-rush against coverage,” said Force head coach Nick Oliver. “I thought we got better in the second. We tightened up defensively. I thought we gave up less around the net and had a few more pushes. We just weren’t able to carry it into the third.”

With Nick Oliver heading to Wisconsin, the Fargo Force are looking for their fifth head coach since the 2018-19 season. Here's a look at some potential names that could fill the vacancy
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Andrew Strathmann has been one of the USHL's top offensive defensemen the last two seasons and played a key role as the Youngstown Phantoms captured their first Clark Cup
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The Phantoms will try to win their first Clark Cup on home ice Friday night while Fargo attempts what very few teams have done before and rally from a 2-0 deficit

Youngstown's William Whitelaw buried the first goal of the game at 1:36 of the third on assists from Shane Lachance and Andon Cerbone. The Phantoms screened Castro in front of the net.


"It was huge for the guys," Whitelaw said of the goal. "I mean we just came off a long bus ride and have bus legs a little bit, but just getting on top first to start the series is always big but we'll have a bigger push tomorrow."

One minute later, Miles Gunty notched another for Youngstown on a top-shelf snipe to take a two-goal lead. Tyler Catalano and Tomas Machu got the assists.

Youngstown poked in a third goal at 15:15. A shot attempt rebounded in front of a loaded crease and Lachance tipped the puck in.

The Force looked to score one of their own by pulling Castro. The attempt fell flat after a Youngstown empty-netter by Whitelaw, his second goal of the game.

“I thought (Youngstown) did more of the right things than we did to win that game.” Oliver said. “I think we had a little life in spurts tonight, but overall we didn’t have enough sustained pressure and momentum.”

Fargo allowed a league-low 159 goals in 62 regular season games (2.56 per game) while the Phantoms were second allowing 173 goals (2.79 per game).

The team was also without their captain Kyle Smolen, who did not play after receiving a two-game suspension due to an illegal hit to the head in the Western Conference Finals.

Game 2 is slated for 6:05 p.m. Saturday.


"We need to find our game sooner," Oliver said. "We need to start on time (Saturday) night and build on from there."

After graduating from North Dakota State University, Haugland joined the Forum in January of 2023. Readers can reach him at 701-241-5508 or by emailing ahaugland@forumcomm.com
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