SIOUX CITY | Luke Strand’s postgame message was filled with all sorts of good cheer.
Hearty roars of celebration took place inside the Sioux City Musketeers’ locker room following Saturday night’s 5-2 United States Hockey League victory that concluded a weekend sweep over Central Illinois.
Strand’s Musketeers head into the Christmas break with a modest two-game winning streak, something which had eluded the club throughout the first three months of the season.
Cole Koepke’s hat trick Saturday night and Matt Jurusik’s strong goaltending have players from this 7-11-3 team on a high as they head home for the holidays on a positive note.
“The message was to take care of each other and take care of themselves,” said Strand. “We need to come back here with a passion. But they need to be back and really enjoy their families. They deserve time off.
“It’s a hard time for young men. Often times, you forget about your families because you’re doing this so rapidly. You can’t forget about your family. They say there’s a bad time (for a break), but they need rest, they need family and they need soul food, so it will be good for them.”
Sioux City’s scoring leader going into the USHL-mandated break with 12 points (8 goals, 4 assists), Sampo Ranta may have been held scoreless over the weekend. Still, he kept linemates like Micah Miller (6 goals, 4 assists) and Martin Pospisil (1, 6), plus a few other teammates fed with scoring opportunities.
Ranta did all of these things with his parents in the stands for both games. His father Esa and mother Ruusa flew from Naantali, Finland, to see him play at the Tyson Events Center for the third time in his two seasons with the Musketeers.
The Rantas won’t be returning to cold and damp Finland for Christmas. They’ll bring Finnish hospitality and a custom or two to warm and sunny Tampa, Florida, where among their plans is an NHL game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Minnesota Wild.
“I’m just going to kind of take it easy for a while and have a little break,” said Ranta. “Hang out, maybe skate a couple of times. We’ll eat good. I’ll rest, hang out with my family. My sister (Essa) is coming. We’ll play Monopoly, maybe some other board games.”
Koepke feels the Musketeers are beginning to turn the corner. Looking back at the last eight games, Sioux City has had the lead in six of those contests and has been blown out only once, the 9-3 loss at Des Moines on Dec. 9.
Koepke, Ranta and Micah Miller are the squad’s only skaters with six or more goals. Matt Miller (3, 3) has suddenly emerged as a scoring threat.
Yet, in the last four weeks, players like Pospisil, Ryan Leibold, Jack Babbage and Parker Ford have each scored their first goals of the season.
Jurusik (6-9-3) has been solid between the pipes in each of his last three starts. Ben Kraws (1-2) blanked Dubuque 2-0 Dec. 2 to give the Musketeers goalie depth.
“We have for sure turned the corner,” said Koepke. “This weekend was huge for us going into the Christmas break. Getting those two wins puts everyone in a better mood to go home. Then when we come back, we’re going to continue to be in that good mood, keep our momentum swing going and hopefully, just keep the wins coming.”
“We needed to win, like winning is contagious and like winning is a habit,” said Strand. “What you have to do is get the results when you’re going through the process. Sometimes when you go through the process, you don’t get the results. I’m glad we got rewarded for it. Coming back from the break more healthy, we’ll have more depth and I’ll be excited to see where this thing takes off to."