SIOUX CITY | No doubt the Sioux Falls Stampede caught Luke Strand’s attention following the first weekend of United States Hockey League play.
During a 3-2-1 exhibition slate, Strand’s Sioux City Musketeers posted a 4-3 overtime win and a 5-2 win over the Stampede. However last weekend, Sioux Falls converted 6 of 12 power-play chances while splitting games against Fargo and Waterloo.
“They had five power-play goals against Fargo, so we better be there to stop that part,” said Strand, whose 1-0 team, following Frinight’s game at Tri-City (1-0) will face the Stampede in Saturday night’s home season opener at the Tyson Events Center.
The Musketeers have won each of their last three home openers, each of those games drawing well over 3,000 fans.
In fact, dating back to the beginning of the Tier I Era (2002-03 season), the Musketeers have an 11-2-2 record in home openers. This glossy mark includes a 4-0-1 advantage over Sioux Falls.
Sioux Falls’ A.J. Villella won USHL defenseman of the week honors, recording a goal and two assists, all coming on the power play. During a 5-2 win over Fargo, Villella had a goal and an assist for a team that converted each of their its power-play chances.
Five members of the Stampede have tallied at least one man-advantage goal thus far. Adam Dawe scored two of the squad’s four power-play goals in the second period against Fargo.
En route to winning both the Western Conference and the Anderson Cup last season, Sioux City ranked fourth in the USHL converting 87.3 percent of its chances on the penalty kill. The Musketeers stopped two of three Fargo power play opportunities last weekend and in the exhibition games against Sioux Falls, went 8 of 10.
“Both teams will look different with their lineups and that is the case,” said Strand. “We will play a stronger team than the exhibition season. I like Sioux Falls’ group. They have a good mix of experience and ability. They had five power-play goals against Fargo, so we better be there in that part.
“Sioux Falls is going to open things up. They have offense that we have to clamp down. We have to possess and execute. When you play an offensively-talented team, the more time we have the puck, the less time they have for their offensive weapons to use it. It’s going to be a big part of what will happen.”
Sioux City relied upon scoring balance in its 3-2 overtime win at Fargo. Sampo Ranta’s game-winning goal, tallied at the 3:24 mark of overtime on assists from alternate captain Keegan Mantaro and Matthew Fawcett, came on a new-look situation for USHL teams in overtime this season as OT play features three-on-three action.
“You can create space for yourself, separation from your opponent and take advantage of opportunities,” said Strand. “That’s a good way to look at it. Part of what really happened well, Fawcett made a really great play to Sampo. You have to execute when the game is on your stick. Sampo stepped up and made the play.
“Sampo is a special player. So many different parts of his game go together like his offensive instinct and his high compete determination.”
Hayden Rowan also recorded a goal and an assist for the Musketeers against the Force. A Yale recruit, both Rowan and Ranta assisted on Mathieu De St. Phalle’s power play goal in the second period.
“We learned a few things (against Fargo) about resilience and what it is,” said Strand. “This group as a whole found it’s a 60-minute game, no doubt. Any opportunities you leave for another team in this league, they’ll take advantage. Fargo made a nice push. We gave them momentum and let them score, then we found a way to hold our breath, put it behind us and push back.”