WATERLOO — On Saturday night, the Waterloo Black Hawks made a big play to win a playoff game against the Fargo Force.
Sunday, fate was reversed as Spencer Meier scored 3 minutes, 42 seconds into overtime to lift Fargo to a 3-2 victory over Waterloo and even the United States Hockey League’s Western Conference best-of-five final at one-game apiece.
“What a fantastic hockey game,” Force head coach Cary Eades said. “A lot of heart and courage displayed on both sides again. Tonight, we made a big play to win it.”
Meier’s goal came just 39 seconds after Waterloo was whistled for a too many men penalty. Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup slipped a pass to Ben Meyers who sent it Meier just above the left circle and it found the back of the top corner. Schmidt-Svejstrup assisted on all three Fargo goals.
“It was a great game right until it wasn’t our way,” Black Hawks head coach P.K. O’Handley said. “We make an unfortunate mental error on a line change and you just can’t do that this time of the year. It was a heck of a game. We did most of the right things, just not in the end.”
Meier’s power-play goal was Fargo’s second with a man-advantage in the game, and came one night after the Force went 0-for-9 on the power play in a 2-0 loss in Game One.
“Basically, our players got back to making plays,” Eades said. “You could see our confidence grow as we were moving the puck around and creating opportunities.”
Once again, this game featured a clinic on power-play killing, strong goaltending and defense with active sticks and sacrificed bodies that kept many good scoring opportunities from ever reaching either team’s goalie. The game was scoreless for the first 39 minutes, 47 seconds.
Fargo showed more energy early and despite giving Waterloo three power plays in the opening 20 minutes, the Force still out-shot the Black Hawks, 8-6, in the period. The roles reversed for much of the second period as Waterloo was out-shooting Fargo, 15-6, when Griffin Loughran escaped the corner to the right of Black Hawk goalie Jared Moe unchecked, and his low-shot beat Moe with just 13 seconds left.
It appeared as though Fargo had put the dagger in Waterloo and twisted it when the Force scored the first power-play goal of the series 4 minutes, 40 seconds into the third. Schmidt-Svejstrup’s nice pass left Meyers with a slam dunk.
But just 3 1/2 minutes later, Waterloo’s Joey Cassetti rifled a wrist shot from the slot that beat Strauss Mann above his stick shoulder and it was 2-1 with 10:55 left.
Then with 7:47 left, and Waterloo on the penalty kill, Solag Bakich stole a puck in the corner to the right of Mann. He found Drury, all alone in front of Mann, and Drury roofed it for a short-handed tally and a 2-2 tie.
It was the Black Hawks’ second short-handed play goal of the playoffs, Drury’s sixth short-handed goal of the season. Waterloo is now 0-for-27 on the power play in the playoffs including 0-11 against Fargo.
“We had a pretty good push, thought we had them back a little bit,” O’Handley said. “Drury makes a great short-handed goal and we are back in the game feeling good.
“Our guys stuck with it. It is going to be a back-and-forth series.”
On the other side, Eades thought his team did a great job of staying together after letting a two-goal, third-period lead slip away.
“I was really proud of the way we responded after they scored the two quick goals,” Eades said. “Mentally weak teams crumble from that point, but I thought we regrouped and you would’ve never known we gave up two goals in a row and the roof was caving in.
“Lot of series left. I respect the heck out of Waterloo and the club they have. It’s a best of three. Now we have chance. Heading home 0-2 would’ve been a big hole to dig out of.”
Games three and four will be Friday and Saturday at Scheels Arena in Fargo.
Waterloo faced a similar situation in the conference semifinals when it headed to Lincoln last week and posted back-to-back road wins to advance to the finals.
“It is a tough loss,” Drury said. “We did a good job of coming back in the third, but our special teams definitely cost us there in the end so we have to make an adjustment and go win on the road.
“I think it helps that we have that experience (of winning two at Lincoln), and we believe in ourselves that we can win on the road. It is going to be tough. Fargo is a great team, so we are going to have to compete harder than we have all year.”
Fargo 3, Waterloo 2 OT
SCORE BY PERIODS
Fargo 0 1 1 1 — 3
Waterloo 0 0 2 0 — 2
FIRST PERIOD — No scoring. Penalties — Jordan Seyfert, Far (boarding), 2:21 Garrett Van Wyhe, Far (roughing), 12:20, Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup, Far (five-minute major, elbowing), 17:30.
SECOND PERIOD — 1. Fargo, Griffin Loughran (Evan Bell, Schmidt-Svejstrup), 19:47. Penalties — Evan Dougherty, Wat (cross checking), 9:28, Bobby Trivigno, Wat (roughing), 9:54, William Fallstrom, Far (roughing), 9:54, John Schuldt, Far (kneeing), 16:10.
THIRD PERIOD — 2. Fargo, Ben Meyers (Schmidt-Svejstrup, Fallstrom), 4:40, pp, 3. Waterloo, Joey Cassetti (Ben Finkelstein, Niko Esposito-Selivanov), 8:05, 3. Waterloo, Jack Drury (Solag Bakich), 13:51, sh. Penalties — Grant Hebert, Far (roughing), 4:12, Mason Palmer, Wat (roughing), 4:12, Jared Moe, Wat (roughing), 4 12, Palmer, Wat (holding), 10:30.
OVERTIME — 5. Fargo, Spencer Meier (Meyers, Schmidt-Svejstrup), 3:42, pp. Penalties — Bench, Wat (too many men), 2:39.
SHOTS ON GOAL
Fargo 8 7 12 4 — 31
Waterloo 6 15 9 0 — 30
Goalies — Fargo, Strauss Mann (28 saves). Waterloo, Jared Moe (28 saves). Referees — Ian Jendro and Brian Hankes. Linesmen — Elliott Bucholz and Trent Williams.