SIOUX CITY | Thursday night, the Sioux City Musketeers will be out to prove that the Christmas holiday break didn’t stop their momentum.
Coach Luke Strand’s 7-11-3 Musketeers resume United States Hockey League action at the Denny Sanford Premier Center against Sioux Falls (12-7-6). If Strand’s squad plays like the team that posted consecutive wins over Central Illinois about a week and a half ago, chance are good they’ll take a three-game winning streak into Saturday night’s game at the Tyson Events Center against Lincoln (11-9).
The annual New Year’s Eve game follows a night later. Omaha (13-7-1) will ring in the New Year with the Musketeers for the sixth straight season.
Here’s a brief re-cap of how the Musketeers reached this point.
Matt Miller (3 goals, 3 assists) scored a first-period goal and had a game-winning shootout goal in a 2-1 victory over Central Illinois on Dec. 15. Matt Jurusik (6-9-3, 2.73 GAA) converted 34 of 35 save opportunities, then turned in 10 of 11 save chances in the ensuing shootout.
A night later, Cole Koepke (9, 1) had the Musketeers’ first hat trick of the season in a 5-2 victory. Martin Pospisil (1, 6) had a goal and an assist as the squad posted their first back-to-back wins of the season and pulled within two points of sixth-place Des Moines.
Here’s a look at five things to keep an eye on as the Musketeers return from the break.
A WIN OVER SIOUX FALLS THURSDAY NIGHT: Why not? The Musketeers are 2-0 against their rival from the north, winning both games by identical 2-1 scores, the first in a shootout at the Tyson Oct. 14 and the second in overtime at the Denny Sanford Premier Center Nov. 10. Jurusik has converted 63 of 65 saves in the series. Koepke and Samuel Salonen (2, 3) have each scored goals against the Stampede. One key to a win would be stopping a Sioux Falls power play that's the USHL's best at 25.7 percent.
JURUSIK CONTINUED SUCCESS: Jurusik is the reigning USHL goaltender of the week, the first Musketeer to win a weekly award from the league thus far. Check it out, in his last three starts, the former University of Wisconsin Badger has allowed just one first-period goal and one second-period goal. He leads the league with three shootout wins and has eight total games where he has yielded two or less goals. Only three at his position have logged in more minutes (1,012).
ANOTHER POSPISIL RUN: Considering Martin Pospisil’s playmaking skills and exciting passes on the ice, he has brought memories of his older brother Kristian, who at this time of the season a year ago, had three goals and seven assists before launching a streak where he scored in 10 of 11 games. Centering a line that features left wing Sampo Ranta (8, 4) and right Micah Miller (6, 4), the potential is there for a similar kind of scoring run from the 18-year old skater Miller and Ranta call “Pos”.
A LOT OF FARGO: As usual, the Musketeers will be spending much of next month away from the Tyson with only two home dates, hosting Fargo on the 26th and Sioux Falls the next night. Each of the 11 games are against teams with current winning records, including the Western Conference’s top three teams – Fargo (16-7-2), Tri-City (16-6) and Sioux Falls (12-7-6). Incidentally, the Musketeers also play at Fargo on the 19th, 20th and the 25th. Fargo leads the season series, 2-0-1.
IT ONLY TAKES SIX: For the first time since the 2011-12 season, six teams from each conference will make the Clark Cup Playoffs. Trailing sixth-place Lincoln by five points, the Musketeers have plenty of time, but plenty of things need to happen. Currently, only three players – Ranta, Koepke and Micah Miller have six or more goals. One of the biggest keys is special teams improvement. The power play currently ranks 16th (11.7 percent) while the penalty kill is 17th (71.4 percent).