Griffin Loughran and Ty Farmer played like they had been there before.
It was the first trip to the Clark Cup Final for the two Fargo Force teammates, but not their first visit to Youngstown, Ohio.
Loughran and Farmer, who played the early part of the 2016-17 season with the Youngstown Phantoms, were two of the biggest reasons the Force was able to get past the Phantoms and claim the franchise’s first Clark Cup.
With Loughran earning playoff Most Valuable Player honors and Farmer scoring the championship-deciding goal, Fargo won the dual title of United States Hockey League playoff champion and USA Hockey Junior Tier I national champion.
Fargo headed to Youngstown for Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-five series, needing at least one win to bring the final back to North Dakota. The Force did one better.
Two straight wins in Youngstown wrapped up a three games-to-one series victory on May 20.
“It’s unbelievable,” Loughran said in an on-ice, post-game interview. “We worked so hard all year.
“Especially for me and Farmer, winning it here, playing here last year, it means everything to us. I can’t describe it.”
Loughran, a 19-year-old from West Seneca, New York, led Fargo with seven playoff goals. The Northern Michigan University recruit also had three assists.
The 5-foot-6 right wing played nine games with Youngstown in the first half of the 2016-17 season, then spent most of the season in the North American Hockey League with the Corpus Christi Ice Rays.
Given another shot in the USHL, the gritty Loughran made a major impact in Fargo. He was third on the team in points per game in the regular season, finishing with 18 goals and 24 assists in 50 games while also leading the team in penalty minutes.
After a slow start in the playoffs, Loughran got hot. He finished on a seven-game points streak, including an assist in the deciding game.
Prior to that, Loughran had goals in six straight games, including the game-winner in Game 1 of the Clark Cup Final.
Farmer was the team’s top-scoring defenseman during the regular season with nine goals and 30 assists.
The 20-year-old from O’Fallon, Missouri, is a veteran of four USHL seasons, playing more than half of his 169 regular-season games with Youngstown in his two-and-a-half seasons on the team. Farmer left Youngstown during the 2016-17 season and finished up the season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
Farmer had two game-winners among his three playoff goals and also had five assists. The UMass-Amherst recruit split two Youngstown players to score the Game 4 winner on a partial breakaway.
“Coming up with that big goal after being here three years, I’m so proud of him,” Loughran said.
In Fargo, they found themselves as part of a team that went 37-16-3-4, but despite being three points from the top of the entire league, wound up in third place in the Western Conference. That meant three straight division playoff series against higher-seeded opponents within the conference.
A Clark Cup-high four road wins combined with seven straight home-ice wins at the start of the playoffs helped the Force make it through.
“Tough as nails,” Farmer said in describing the team. “We brought it every night; every game.
“We stuck to the system and did everything we could to come in here and get the job done.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc. Photo courtesy of Hickling Images.