SIOUX CITY | Brady Ferner called last weekend’s losses on the road to Team USA and Chicago unacceptable.

Saturday’s 7-2 derailing at Team USA and Sunday’s 9-2 thrashing at Chicago gave the Sioux City Musketeers’ captain time to think on the long bus ride home. Posting an 11-13-5 record, Sioux City remains sixth place in the Western Conference and in contention for a second straight Clark Cup Playoff berth, something Ferner feels the team will be able to accomplish.

The defenseman from Dakota Dunes welcomed Tuesday’s competitive, hard-hitting practice which he feels may have helped the Musketeers re-gain their competitive edge. He said the Musketeers got away from some of the factors that triggered a recent five-game winning streak.

“Practice was up and down the ice, go-go, in your face, so we got that competitiveness back and that work ethic we’re looking for,” said Ferner. “It was unacceptable that we lost those games because we didn’t compete hard enough. This hard practice was something that was needed.”

This season, the top six teams from each division qualify for the Clark Cup Playoffs. Postseason play is still three months away. The halfway point of the season will come after Friday night’s game at Fargo.

Ferner said keys such as creating second-chance opportunities and suffocating opponents in their own zone didn’t occur Saturday and Sunday and are needed to reach the playoffs. Musketeers Coach Luke Strand likes recent goal-scoring from secondary players such as Dylan Mills, Ryan Leibold and Martin Pospisil which he believes is also important in reaching the postseason as they add to offense already provided from the squad’s leading scorers, Sampo Ranta, Cole Koepke and Micah Miller.

“I think when we beat (Team USA) in the shootout on Friday, it was like, we did that, let’s do it again,” said Strand. “We took our foot off the gas in many areas. I don’t think we were as competitive to play against.

“I don’t think we put pucks in players to areas that make us win and we put a lot of risk into our game. Both of those teams, Chicago and Team USA, play a run-and-gun game and when we tried to do that, it didn’t work out very well for us. Those are areas we have to adjust to.”

Strand said special teams improvement is the biggest key for the Musketeers to reach the playoffs. Heading into the Friday and Saturday games at Fargo, Sioux City ranks 16th in the penalty kill (74.5 percent) and 17th in the power play (9.3 percent).

“As much as our penalty kill has gotten better, our power play has got to get to that point,” said Strand. “We’re addressing personnel as we speak, but at the same time, it’s the mentality of the power play. We have to get more shots and we have to generate more opportunities. We’ve had a couple of good looks and if you don’t score on those couple of good looks, why not get five good looks by shooting more? We haven’t been aggressive enough that way.”

Sioux City, following the winning streak, generated points in the Western Conference standings with a 5-4 shootout loss to Tri-City and a 3-2 overtime loss to Lincoln. Last Friday’s 5-4 shootout win over Team USA pushed Strand’s squad to .500 for the first time since the third week of October.

Among the contributors in the Musketeers’ 6-2-2 stretch are several new players received through trades such as Bauer Neudecker, who has a goal and two assists in five games since arriving from Dubuque. Adam Kadlec scored a goal in his first game as a Musketeer last Friday, while Nate Knoepke has added to a solid defenseman corps.

“We’ve put them with players in spots where they can take advantage,” said Strand. “Bauer responded with a big goal against Tri-City. Adam Kadlec comes into his first game and he scores against Team USA, a huge goal. Those new guys who have come in have brought internal competition, which means the more depth you have and the more competitive depth you have, the internal competition goes right through the roof.”

Strand made another key move by pairing Knoepke, formerly from the University of Minnesota, with Ferner, which has stepped up Ferner’s game.

“Knoepke is a great player, an all-around player who makes plays all over the ice,” said Ferner. “Having someone like him on your side makes you elevate your game so you can continue to play with him because he’s such a great player. It’s made me be able to relax and focus on my game. I know I can rely on my partner to the left of me. He’s been a huge help.”

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