SIOUX CITY -- Early in the United States Hockey League season, it's good to experience the feeling of embarrassment, according to Sioux City Musketeers Coach Brett Larson.
Larson didn't witness Cedar Rapids' 10-2 thrashing of the Musketeers last Friday, nor the 4-1 loss to Lincoln the following night at the Tyson Events Center. He was in Duluth, Minn., with his family after the funeral of his 64-year-old father, former Duluth deputy police chief Bob Larson, who played hockey at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the 1968-69 season.
"Sometimes, early in the season when your team gets embarrassed like we did against Cedar Rapids, it helps them deep down to focus better," said Larson, whose 1-4 team will play tonight at Fargo (3-2).
"When you're embarrassed, it's a wakeup call. Up until that point, we hadn't played a bad game. We won a game. We lost two games by one goal. We've had a great week in practice.
"The guys responded well after Friday with a good first period on Saturday. I was proud of how we competed, considering the big fight and the melee that changed momentum in Lincoln's favor. The guys stood up for themselves in the fight. We battled hard and though things didn't go our way, we learned from experiences that I hope will make us better."
Nikita Sirotkin (1 goal, 1 assist), Jordan Schmaltz (2, 2) and Geoff Ferguson (0, 0) each collected fighting majors for the Musketeers with 7:28 remaining in the first period against Lincoln. Three Lincoln Stars also recorded fighting majors in response to an inadvertent collision that knocked one of their best players out of the game, Dominik Shine.
Sirotkin and the Stars' Brent Tate each received game ejections. Sirotkin has been suspended by the USHL for tonight's game, but will be back for Saturday's home game against Tri-City.
Sirotkin has practiced this week. Larson was pleased with the high tempo and focus squad members have shown in preparation for Fargo as they seek to end a three-game losing streak where they've been outscored 16-4.
"We've been focusing on defending the rush better," said Larson. "We've made poor decisions on defending the rush. A lot of it is communication. Our gaps are too weak and our angles are off in the neutral zone. There's been a lot of repetition in practice. Once we do a good job in the defensive zone, we'll be in great shape."
Starting tonight, Larson also hopes that a poor 11.1 percent power play (2 of 18) will improve. Sioux City, in a 5-2 win over Fargo at the Tyson on Oct. 8, not only got a power play goal from Maxim Gaudreault (1 goal, 1 assist), but also stopped each of the Force's two power play chances.
The Musketeers boast a 90.48 percent penalty kill (19 of 21), a special teams factor that's essential tonight. Fargo, after all, has converted 8 of 18 chances with a man advantage, paced by Austin Farley (4 goals, 3 assists), who already has four power play points (3 goals, 1 assist).
With four points, Brett Patterson (1 goal, 3 assists) is tied with Schmaltz for the Musketeers scoring lead. However, rookie Kyle Criscuolo hasn't scored since collecting two goals and one power play assist in the win over the Force.