SIOUX CITY | Brannon McManus is having a blast in his first-ever trip to the Clark Cup Finals.
Saturday night, the former Omaha Lancers skater turned in his second 2-goal game of the postseason. Both came in a 3-goal first period as the Chicago Steel evened the series against the Sioux City Musketeers at a game apiece with a 5-1 victory at the Tyson Events Center.
McManus scored his first goal 46 seconds after teammate Johnny Walker began the scoring with 8:57 left in the first stanza. McManus, who began his season with six goals and five assists in 17 games at Omaha, also scored two goals in a 4-3 win over Dubuque in the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals.
“Being in the Clark Cup Finals, there’s nothing more special than that,” said McManus, who has playoff totals of six goals and two assists. “I just feel fortunate to be here. Hopefully we can get the job done. This is a dream. People dream of this when they’re growing up.”
Chicago goaltender Ales Stezka appeared for the first time in the series Saturday night, recording 35 saves before the Musketeers received a power play goal from Aapeli Rasanen with 4:46 left in the final period. Heading into Game 3 of the series this Friday at Fox Valley Arena in Geneva, Ill., Coach Jay Varady’s Musketeers have scored a man-advantage goal in nine of their 10 playoff games.
Musketeers goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks, now 7-3 in the playoffs, had stopped 16 straight shots before yielding Jake Jaremko’s power play goal with 12:12 left in the third period. At that time, Kivlenieks was pulled and Todd Scott took over, appearing in the series for the first time.
Scott, the Musketeers’ fourth-round pick in the 2016 Phase I Draft, had played in both of the 2-1 regular-season losses to the Steel.
Sioux City had a 15-12 second-period shots advantage, but was unable to convert two power-play goals. The Western Conference champions could have pulled within 3-1, but an apparent goal from Kristian Pospisil was taken away with 3:33 remaining until the second intermission.
“I thought we had the shot advantage, I thought we had the possession advantage, but Stezka was making great saves all night,” said Varady. “He was the difference maker. I don’t think Stezka really had (Pospisil’s shot) covered, but the ref thought he had it covered. Our guys poked it in, but the whistle already blew.
“It was one of those situations when it was 3-0 at the time and we could have been down by two. (Chicago) didn’t give us a lot of space, but I thought we did a good job of possession and as the second period went along, I thought we generated more shots. There was a period there where we weren’t shooting the puck, we were being too cute and Stezka saw everything we shot.”
Micah Miller, who dished three assists in Friday’s 5-4 overtime triumph, launched a puck that skipped in and out in the first minute of the final period. Dakota Dunes native and defenseman Brady Ferner threaded a pass to Tarek Baker 2 ½ minutes later, but Stezka flushed the shot.
Chicago has outscored the Musketeers 9-5 in the two games. Thus far in the playoffs, three of Coach Dan Muse’s skaters have at least six playoff goals, topped by Eduards Tralmaks’ eight.
Incidentally, Tralmaks hails from the same city as Kivlenieks, Riga, Latvia.
“I was happy with the way we played, overall,” said Muse. “That 10-minute mark in the beginning, we started to play the way we wanted to, though it took us a little while to get going. We had a lot of guys who made big contributions and a lot of guys who did a lot of good little things too that might not have showed up on the scoresheet, but those things made a big difference in the game.”