SIOUX CITY | Many hockey enthusiasts predicted that the Western Conference Finals series between the Sioux City Musketeers and the Waterloo Black Hawks would go five games.
After all, these were the United States Hockey League’s top two teams when the regular season came to a close. Winners of the Western Conference regular-season title for the second time in the last three years, the Musketeers scored 87 points, three more than Waterloo.
Eastern Conference regular-season and postseason champion Chicago (81 points) awaits the winner of Tuesday night’s Game 5 at the Tyson Events Center between the Musketeers and the Black Hawks for the start of the Clark Cup Finals.
Sioux City has yielded a USHL-best nine goals while going 5-2 thus far in the Clark Cup Playoffs. Coach Jay Varady’s Musketeers have also outscored Waterloo 21-18 in postseason play.
Waterloo, however, has regained momentum in the series, evening up at two games each following Saturday night’s 3-1 victory. Will the Black Hawks take advantage of P.K. O’Handley’s 21 years (14 at Waterloo) of USHL coaching experience or will the better scoring balance from Varady’s squad, where five player have at least five points be the difference?
Here’s five things to look for going into the game.
MUSKETEERS POWER PLAY SUCCESS: Sioux City in the regular season, didn’t have a stretch of power-play success that it’s enjoying in the Clark Cup Playoffs. Kristian Pospisil extended the Musketeers’ streak to seven straight games with a man-advantage goal when he evened the score with 6:41 left in the first period. Four players (Pospisil, Eeli Tolvanen, Jacob Wilson, Tarek Baker) have scored for a unit that’s 7 of 20 for a solid 35 percent in the playoffs.
A FLOW?: Everyone knows it, too many penalties in a hockey game disrupts the flow. This series has switched from tense to terse, considering the 12 infractions whistled upon the Musketeers in Game 4 Saturday night at Young Arena and the 10 on Waterloo. Free-flowing speed is something both teams also possess and the team that stays away from turnovers the best will face Chicago next.
MOTIVATED MATISS: Musketeers goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks was caught off guard not knowing the direction of a wraparound goal that Bailey Conger scored to snap a 1-1 tie with 33 seconds left in the first period Saturday night. Kivlenieks was never defeated in two straight games during the regular season and has a 21-3-3 record (including the Clark Cup Playoffs) on home ice.
JAY’S WAY: Three days before the series started at the Tyson Events Center Waterloo Coach P.K. O’Handley said he was looking forward to playing at Sioux City, partially because of the way that Jay Varady coaches the Musketeers. Penalties may have marred Saturday night’s game, but there’s full respect between the head coaches. “Jay’s team plays the game the right way,” said O’Handley. “They play hard and they play honest.”
A BIG HOME CROWD: The Musketeers have drawn 7,921 fans in four games at the Tyson Events Center, the best thus far among the three teams still alive in the Clark Cup Playoffs. Still, that’s just an average of 1,980. How about a crowd like the 2,795 who saw the Musketeers win the Anderson Cup following the 4-1 win over Tri-City on April 2? Better yet, the 3,041 that saw the Musketeers clip the Black Hawks 6-3 on March 24.