SIOUX CITY | Luke Strand is looking forward to reuniting with his hockey family.
Today marks the opening of the Sioux City Musketeers preseason training camp at the IBP Ice Center and later in the week at the Tyson Events Center. It’s been about a month and a half since the Musketeers’ new head coach has seen his team of 30 skaters dating back to an off-season camp in late July.
This group is young. But Strand likes the way they skate, play with pace, tempo and create opportunities with their sticks.
Strand wants to create a family-type of atmosphere, firmly believing that this approach is the best for a young squad.
“The first thing I’m looking forward to is just building a team and building rapport for each other,” said Strand. “I want this team to feel like a selfless group for one another. For me, that is everything. You can have a great team and great individuals, but you need to have a great family.
“That’s what I believe. I believe in our talent. They’re young, but that’s where family matters the most.”
Families have leaders outside of the coaching staff. There’s none better than defenseman Brady Ferner, a Dakota Dunes native who’s had three goals and 14 assists the previous 1 1/2 seasons, including last season’s run in the Clark Cup Finals.
Two veteran blue-liners accompany Ferner, Keegan Mantaro (6 assists) and Connor Mayer (8 assists). Nikolai Lyssogor played 17 games last season and is ready for extended action while among the new defensemen are Sweden native Carl Ehrnberg and Luke Johnson.
Three Musketeer forwards will get an entire season of playing time, including Micah Miller (4 goals, 9 assists), who scored in six of his final eight regular-season games after leading Grand Rapids to the Minnesota Class AA state championship. Miller then shined in the Clark Cup Playoffs with a goal and four assists.
Finland native Sampo Ranta (6, 3) is healthy after missing 30 games to a knee injury. The same can be said for Cole Koepke (3, 2) who played 22 games before a November knee injury ended his season.
“I watched the game where (Koepke) got injured against Waterloo,” said Strand. “He was playing his best hockey of the season when that happened. He’s back at it full go. I clearly see his eagerness.”
First-round draft pick Martin Pospisil, a Slovakia native, is the younger brother of Kristian Pospisil, who combined for 20 goals and 34 assists a year ago. Matt Miller had three assists in 17 games for the Musketeers while other young forwards who have impressed Strand are Parker Ford and Randy Hernandez, who combined for two goals and six assists the previous two seasons for Team USA.
There’s also a pair of 6-2, 188-pound goaltenders in camp, Matt Jurisik and Gabe Vinal. Jurisik had a 17-23-7 record the previous two seasons at the University of Wisconsin while Vinal had an .890 save percentage last year for the North American Hockey League’s Northeast Generals.
Strand’s team will open the first of six pre-season games Thursday night at Omaha.
“With three days of practice, we’re limited to what we can put in a game, but what we get out of the game is what I care about,” said Strand. “There’s areas of our game we need to improve, but I care about the value of the team and how we keep accountable for those pieces. To me, that is a win.
“I want to win, I hate to lose. But I care for our growth as a team. That’s indicated by how we handle ourselves and how we support each other up and down the rink.”