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Force have one more party together with the Clark Cup

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FARGO—The Fargo Force had one last hoorah together Monday at Scheels Arena before players head home for the offseason Tuesday.

And they invited anyone in the area to celebrate the organization's first Clark Cup championship with them.

"Ten years. Finally," team owner Ace Brandt shouted to the crowd of hundreds during a ceremony. "It was worth the wait."

On Monday, the Force invited fans to take pictures with the Clark Cup, get autographs from the players and have some free beer and food. In a ceremony after the meet and greet, Brandt and president Jon Kram spoke to the crowd before Force coach Cary Eades spoke about each of the players.

"It has been 10 years, but we did bring Clarky home," Eades said to the crowd.

The United States Hockey League crown resides in Fargo. It took a decade, but Scheels Arena now houses the defending champions. Eades went through the lineup, describing how each player got to Fargo, most of which had been traded or cut by previous USHL teams.

"The second chancers are now sitting on top of the mountain," Eades said.

Force goalie Strauss Mann was one of those second chancers. He was cut by Muskegon last May. The Michigan commit had a .932 save percentage in the 14 playoff games. He started a diet in high school that does not allow him to eat anything processed or "changed by humans." This means he hasn't had pizza in over two years.

He said during the season he'd cheat on his diet if the Force won the Clark Cup. He had a nibble of pizza in Youngstown on Saturday.

"It was good, but the taste of victory was a little better," Mann said.

Evan Bell was at Merrimack College to start the season. He came back to the Force after things didn't work out in December, finishing third in Force history with 169 games played for Fargo. He scored goals in Game 3 and Game 4 of the Clark Cup Final and is now headed to Penn State.

"It's been a crazy year, but it's been the best year," Bell said. "(Fargo is) my second home. It really is. It's meant so much to me. I came here a young, little kid and now I feel like a young man."

Jacob-Schmidt Svejstrup and Griffin Loughran were both cut by USHL teams last season. Schmidt Svejstrup was named team MVP on Monday and Loughran was named playoff MVP. Schmidt Svejstrup's voice was still raspy Monday from all the screaming over the weekend.

"It was an unbelievable feeling," Schmidt-Svejstrup. "We live here for nine months, so it's as huge of a deal for us as it is for the town."

 

Loughran took in his final time with the 2017-18 Force team on Monday.

"It's the last couple of times we'll all be together as a team and as a family, so spending time with the boys and celebrating has been really something special," Loughran said. "It'll be a huge staple in my life forever. I'll never forget this place."

The stories don't end with the players. Three employees of the Force have been with the team since its first season in 2008. Whitney Baumgartner is one of those three. Growing up around the sport with her father coaching men's hockey at Concordia for 22 years, Baumgartner began as an intern with the Force. The Moorhead High School and Concordia graduate rose through the ranks the last 10 years and is currently vice president of business operations.

She was working the games in Fargo when Indiana and Dubuque beat the Force in 2009 and 2013 in the Clark Cup and was in the crowd in Green Bay when the Force lost a deciding Game 5. In 2010, the Force were 49 seconds away from sweeping Green Bay. Baumgartner was standing next to to the Clark Cup and with the commissioner of the USHL ready to announce the Force as Clark Cup champions. It slipped away.

That is now history, as she was on the ice in Youngstown hoisting the Clark Cup.

"When we were in Youngstown this past weekend there was a minute left and I'd never been that nervous in my life," Baumgartner said. "Until that clock hit zero I was not going to celebrate. I waited until the last second to celebrate."

The first thing she did was go down to the ice and hug her dad, Steve, who is the equipment manager for the Force.

She laughed Monday when asked what happens to the Clark Cup. She didn't know. She was waiting on people from the USHL to inform her. That was never something she never had to think about in her 10 years with Force. Monday was also her 31st birthday and she couldn't believe she was partying with the Clark Cup.

"I wouldn't want to spend it any other way," Baumgartner said. "Ten years in the making."

As for Eades and the constant questions of if he'll move to coaching college or higher after winning his second Clark Cup, he says for now he's happy.

"You never know what the future holds, but extremely happy with all the love and support of the community and the organization," Eades said. "Hopefully, they'll have me around for awhile."

When asked what more he could do in the USHL, Eades blurted out an answer before the question was said.

"Win it again next year," Eades said. "We'll enjoy this for a few days, but our camp starts in 10 days. No rest for the wicked."

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