SIOUX CITY | Matt Miller is more than just a first-period goal scorer for the Sioux City Musketeers.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Michigan State recruit recorded his first shootout goal ever Friday night as the Musketeers posted a 2-1 shootout win in United States Hockey League action over the Central Illinois Flying Aces at the Tyson Events Center.
Miller, who tied the game 1-all on a goal with 1:26 left in the first period, flipped a shot past Central Illinois goaltender Kris Carlson (4-5-1). It was one of two shootout goals scored against Carlson, as alternate captain Cole Koepke got a shot that evened things up after the Flying Aces’ Caleb Rule scored off Musketeers’ goaltender Matt Jurusik (5-9-3).
“This feels really amazing,” said Miller, who has three goals and two assists for Coach Luke Strand’s 6-11-3 squad, who will be hoping for a weekend sweep when Central Illinois (8-10-2) invades the Tyson Events Center.
In fact, it was the third time this season that Miller had tied a game 1-1 in the first period. It was his first goal since a 5-4 loss at Dubuque on Nov. 25.
“Our team deserved that win,” said Miller. “It’s been long overdue. We have been playing really well and we haven’t gotten results. So it feels really good to get results.”
Jurusik said the Musketeers work on shootout situations regularly in practice. In fact, the Western Conference’s last-place team is 3-1 in shootouts, compared to Central Illinois’ 1-1 mark.
Miller was the 11th man who climbed over the boards at the bench to take his turn against Carlson. Among his teammates who missed were Micah Miller, who had the shootout goal in a 2-1 win over Sioux Falls on Oct. 14 at the Tyson and team scoring leader Sampo Ranta (8 goals, 4 assists), who had the shootout goal in a 2-1 win over Madison on Nov. 17, also on home ice.
“(It takes) deception,” said Miller. “You have to read what the goalie’s doing and try to figure out a way to beat him mentally and physically with your shot and move.”
“I couldn’t be happier (for Matt Miller),” said Strand. “If you follow Matt day to day, he does the ordinary things, really with a lot of care and a lot of love, which is going to make him a positive player all the time. His hard work is paying off for sure.”
The hard-working Jurusik has been between the pipes in all four Sioux City shootouts. After yielding Griffin Lunn’s goal about two minutes into the contest, the former University of Wisconsin goaltender made saves on 33 consecutive opportunities, combined, in regulation and overtime.
In fact, Jurusik had a combined 20 saves in the third period and overtime. He stopped 10 of 11 chances in the shootout.
“I was pretty confident,” said Jurusik. “We work on a lot of shootouts during practice. We had a lot of shootouts this week to prepare for the game. I knew (the win) was going to come eventually. I just didn’t know it would take that long. You just have to be ready when you’re called upon.”
“It’s a proud effort for him,” said Strand. “At the end of the day, he did a good job of just sticking with it. You see shooters go by and not score for us and he has to keep it out for them. I’m proud of him for sticking with that part because as that dwindles on, it does for the brain of a goalie too.”
It’s clear that if the Musketeers are to score a sweep in the weekend series against Central Illinois, a power-play goal or two would be essential.
The Musketeers head into Saturday night’s game against the Flying Aces ranked 16th in the United States Hockey League with a 12 percent (9 of 75) power play. Central Illinois has the league’s 16th-ranked penalty kill at 73.7 percent (56 of 76).
Central Illinois cleaned up that special teams category, stopping two Sioux City man-advantage chances, one in the first period and the other in the second. The Flying Aces prevailed 3-2 over the Musketeers on Dec. 1, despite yielding power-play goals from Koepke and Brady Ferner.