SIOUX CITY | Looking back, it really didn’t matter that the Sioux City Musketeers lost their final three regular-season games.
Among the aspects that Musketeers Coach Jay Varady was experimenting in that time was different power play combinations as he prepared for the Western Conference Playoffs.
So far, so good. The Anderson Cup champions have scored at least one power-play goal in each of their playoff games.
In fact, heading into Game 3 of Friday’s Western Conference Finals series at Waterloo, the Musketeers are leading the Clark Cup Playoffs, posting a 38.5 percent conversion rate. Jacob Wilson’s first-period power play goal in Sunday’s 2-1 overtime loss to Waterloo is the latest for a squad that has been good on five of 13 chances.
“It’s just good players,” said Varady. “Those groups are in rhythm right now. They’ve been together for a little bit. After we settled them down for part of the year, those guys have been clicking.”
Only once during the course of the regular season did the Musketeers have a string of five straight games with a power play goal. It was one of the reasons the team went 8-0 in November, as that streak began after a 2 of 50 streak in the season’s first 15 games.
Kristian Pospisil and Eeli Tolvanen are among five from throughout the USHL with two power-play goals. Tolvanen, fellow Finland countryman Aapeli Rasanen and Tarek Baker each have two power-play assists.
“I think our power play has been good for the second half of the season after starting out miserable because we were trying to find the combinations, the lines and the pairs,” said Varady, whose 40-13-7 team went a 14th-place 14.1 percent in the regular season. “I think we really squared it away in the middle of February. Once we got to February, I think we started to put more pressure on teams.
“Pospisil is dangerous. Eeli is dangerous. There’s no secrets. Everyone who comes to the rink knows these guys like to be on the power play.”
PENALTY KILL SUCCESS: Sioux City ranked fourth with an 88.0 percent penalty kill in the regular season. Thus far in the playoffs, Varady’s squad is perfect in 16 chances.
Waterloo boasted the USHL’s third-ranked power play in the regular season at 21.2 percent. Three players had at least six man-advantage goals, but Sioux City’s PK has turned away four man-advantage chances in the series by the Black Hawks.
In fact, Waterloo had converted only three of 25 power-play chances in the regular season against the Musketeers. Then again, Coach P.K. O’Handley’s squad went 2 of 8 in a 6-1 win on March 11 at Young Arena that ended the Musketeers’ nine-game winning streak.
2 TO 1 AGAIN: Sunday afternoon’s Game 2 final score was the most common regular season final result for the Musketeers.
The Musketeers went 6-4-4 in those 2-1 games, which included an overtime setback to Waterloo at the Tyson Events Center on Oct. 14 and a 2-1 win at Young Arena on Nov. 11, the victory that at the time, send Varady’s squad to a tie for first place with the Black Hawks. Then on the next night, Sioux City took the conference lead for keeps on the combination of a 3-2 win over Tri-City and Waterloo’s 5-3 loss to Chicago.
The 2-1 score has occurred twice in the playoffs, the first time on April 21 when the Musketeers defeated Des Moines in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
MORE MUSKETEER LEADERS: Baker, who a year ago provided two goals and three assists for the Bloomington team that lost to Dubuque in the Eastern Conference Finals, is among three players tied for the lead with five assists in the Clark Cup Playoffs.
Tolvanen has a USHL-best four power-play points (2 goals, 2 assists) while Odeen Tufto is one of four to turn in a shorthanded goal, as his shorty provided a 4-2 lead in Game 1 against Waterloo.
Don’t forget the USHL’s player and goaltender of the year, Matiss Kivlenieks. As expected, he’s pacing the goalie stats in goals-against-average (1.13) and save percentage (.957) while tying with three others at four wins.
FORMER MUSKIES STILL ALIVE: There were five former Musketeers who competed in the Clark Cup Playoffs, six if you count defenseman Jake Ryczek, currently sidelined with an upper body injury for the Black Hawks.
Forwards Alex Steeves and Michael Boyle, part of last year’s 20-39-1 group that had the USHL’s worst record, play for the Dubuque team that’s 1-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals against Chicago. Steeves has a goal and two assists while Boyle has a goal.
THE DRAFT: Varady, the USHL’s coach of the year, USHL general manager of the year Mark LeRose and the remainder of the Musketeers coaching staff, made selections Monday night in the Phase I Draft where players from the 2001 birth year were selected.
Choosing 16th in the first round, the Musketeers made Bobby Brink, a 5-foot-7, 155-pound center from Minnetonka, Minn., their first pick. The University of Denver recruit had eight goals and 18 assists as a high school freshman for the Minnetonka Skippers.
The Phase II Draft will be held today.