SIOUX CITY | Two of the United States Hockey League’s busiest goaltenders were on display this weekend in the two-game series between the Sioux City Musketeers and the Green Bay Gamblers.
The Musketeers’ Matt Jurusik prevailed. Matched up against the USHL’s minutes leader, Maksim Zhukov, Jurusik had 32 saves and came within 75 seconds of his first shutout of the season in Saturday night’s 4-2 triumph at the Tyson Events Center.
Zhukov, a native of Stalingrad, Russia, has played 1,795 minutes, while Jurusik, a former University of Wisconsin Badger, has toiled 1,780 minutes for Coach Luke Strand’s Musketeers, which improved their season record to 17-14-6 and went over .500 for the first time this season. Jurusik, now tied with Zuhkov and Tri-City’s Filip Larsson for a USHL-leading 16 victories, posted his second win of the weekend over Zuhkov, last summer’s fourth-round NHL draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights.
“You always want to prove yourself against those guys who have that NHL status,” said Jurusik. “To win the battle both nights is huge. You really like to stick it to those guys. Being snubbed in the draft two years in a row, you really like to show your worth.”
Jurusik (16-11-4) had plenty of support from his teammates, including Martin Pospisil and Micah Miller, who tallied first-period goals. Cole Koepke tallied an insurance goal in the third period for a 3-0 lead.
Defensemen Keegan Mantaro, Jack Babbage and Calle Ehrnberg played strong in front of Jurusik, especially in the physical second period as they helped the Sioux City goalie block hard shots by the Gamblers’ Viliam Cacho, Trenton Bliss and Lean Bergmann.
“Really up until the last two minutes, (Green Bay) didn’t have any penetration,” said Jurusik. “We had a great ‘D’ zone game tonight. These last couple of weeks, they have really been buckling down.”
“I thought the ‘D’ corps as a whole did a good job,” said Strand. “Obviously, that’s your supporting cast. We blocked some shots that were necessary and needed. Matt made some huge saves and timely saves. I’m sure he’ll pass the credit off to the ‘D’, but he deserves a lot of it too.”
Jurusik has posted a 12-2-1 record in a 12-3-3 surge that has taken the Musketeers from eighth to sixth in the Western Conference. During that time frame, the 6-foot-1, 192-pound native of LaGrange, Ill., has posted a .934 save percentage (473 of 506) and has also defeated four goaltenders with better goals-against-averages than his 2.56, Omaha’s Zach Driscoll (1.80), Fargo’s Strauss Mann (2.01) and Ryan Bischel (2.36) along with Zhukov (2.47).
During the previous 17 games, Sioux City had managed just three power-play goals. Miller’s man advantage goal with 4:48 left in the first period was the squad’s first of that variety since Sampo Ranta’s in the second period of a 4-3 shootout win over Fargo on Jan. 25.
Miller’s second power play goal of the season was part of a 5 on 3 advantage for the Musketeers thanks to penalties 44 seconds apart by the Gamblers’ Jackson Charlesworth (slashing) and Michael Underwood (high sticking).
Possessing the league’s third-best penalty kill (86 percent) heading into the game, Green Bay was one man down after killing the first infraction, but 10 seconds later, defenseman Calle Ehrnberg assisted on the power play goal that came 10 minutes after Martin Pospisil’s goal.
Pospisil, incidentally, has scored in eight of his last 10 games, providing four goals and 10 assists in that span. His older brother Kristian had 15 goals and 25 assists in the regular season a year ago for the Anderson Cup champions coached by Jay Varady.
The Musketeers will host Youngstown on both Friday and Saturday as USHL play continues.