SIOUX CITY | For the first time in three seasons, the Sioux City Musketeers have two rookie goaltenders.
Former Shattuck St. Mary’s High School (Minn.) standout Kyle Hayton will start between the pipes in tonight’s United States Hockey League regular-season opener at Fargo, N.D. Action against the Force will start at 7:35 p.m. at Scheels Arena.
Hayton posted a 1.86 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in the 2010-11 season for Shattuck St. Mary’s. The following season at the same school, the 6-foot, 150-pound native of Faribault, Minn., had a 1.98 GAA and a .925 save percentage.
“Kyle was really impressive in camp and that earned him this first start,” said Musketeers Coach Brett Larson, whose final roster, released on Tuesday, also includes 6-3, 218-pound rookie goalie Joe Ballmer.
Sioux City is playing its first season without Matt Skoff. Now competing at Penn State, Skoff was 69-55-15 in his three-year career with a lifetime 2.62 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.
Skoff was a backup to the squad’s top selection in the 2009 Entry Draft, Willie Yanakeff, when the 2009-10 season started. Skoff eventually won the starter’s job, posting the first of three consecutive 20-plus win seasons, while Yanakeff was traded to Waterloo.
Skoff was 25-22-1 in his final year. Five of his six shutouts came in the second half of the season when the Musketeers allowed an average of 2.3 goals while sporting a 17-9-1 record.
“Looking around the league, most teams are in the same boat like us with goalies who are unproven,” said Larson. “It’s not like last year when there were goalie in the league like Skoff and (Fargo’s Zane) Gothberg.
“It’s not really a concern of mine. I’m excited to get Kyle and Joe in there to see what they can do. Kyle won two national championships (at Shattuck St. Mary’s). When you have a goalie who’s used to winning, it’s a confidence builder because they’ve done well to keep their team in the game at a high level. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
Musketeer co-captains Cliff Watson and Michael Holland will be among six defensemen who Larson will play in the season opener along with another returning veteran, University of Minnesota-Duluth recruit Dan Molenaar. Watson and Holland will be relied upon for their physical play while Molenaar will provide the breakout pass that sets up the offense.
Each of the three played key roles as Sioux City won nine of its last 12 games to reach the USHL Playoffs for the second straight year. The defense in that stretch yielded an average of 1.91 goals.
Larson likes his defensemen big, with Watson (6-2, 210) and Holland (6-2, 200) each fitting the mold. The same can be said for rookies Michael Kapla (6-1, 195), Ryan Mantha (6-5, 210) and Blake Heinrich (6-0, 185).
“It’ll take time for them to develop, but I believe they can reach a high level like the other groups did last year,” said Larson. “We have a good mix with defensemen like Kapla who’s good at moving the puck. Heinrich and Mantha are physical, strong, solid defensemen who have shown a lot of promise.”
The same can be said about the forwards on Larson’s second roster. Center and captain David Goodwin (17 goals, 22 assists in 2011-12) leads a returning group of solid scorers that also includes Jordan Boucher-Gould (7, 15), David Henry (10, 10) and Josh Erickson (6, 5).
Conor McGlynn, a forward who played in Sioux City’s last five regular-season games, scored four goals in the squad’s final two regular-season games. First-round draft pick Cam Brown and Boucher-Gould each added three while rookie Jake Guentzel tallied two goals.
“We’ve got forwards like (Jake) Thomas and (Joe) Snively who bring goods to the table,” said Larson. “(Tanner) Pond brings grit, speed and he’s strong in the forecheck.
"Erickson's role is important too. All of our forwards bring a piece to the puzzle. One of them’s not more important than the other.”