SIOUX CITY | Phillip Knies is never too high, never too low.
A right wing from the Sioux City Musketeers, Knies has feelings about the game of hockey that speak highly of his performance. He’s tough, he provides leadership and he comes through in the clutch.
Musketeers Coach Jay Varady calls Knies, a second-year USHL veteran from Phoenix, Arizonia, the heart and soul of the team. Sioux City’s regular-season leader with 10 power-play goals, Knies scored the game-winning goal on the man advantage 2 ½ minutes into overtime during Friday’s 5-4 win in Game 1 of the Clark Cup Finals over the Chicago Steel.
Rather than gloat over his fourth game-winning goal of the season (two regular-season, two Clark Cup Playoffs), Knies credited linemates Kristian Pospisil and Odeen Tufto for their assists. He calls himself “fortunate” to be on that power-play unit.
“We had our moments in that game when we weren’t playing our best,” said Knies, who during the playoffs, has two goals and five assists for the Anderson Cup champions, who are deadlocked with the Steel 1-1 heading into Friday’s Game 3 at Fox Valley Arena in Geneva, Illinois.
“Our goaltender and our defense stepped up. We had a lot of depth that played hard for us. You have to keep a straight mindset. You can’t get too low when things aren’t going well. You can’t be too confident when things are going right. Staying with that consistent mindset and just being patient, ultimately, will lead to success.”
Knies, a Miami (Ohio) recruit who supplied 21 goals and 20 assists for the 40-13-7 squad that won the Western Conference regular season championship, gets his scoring chances, as one of seven Musketeers with at least two goals in the playoffs.
Ultimately, scoring balance (Knies is one of eight with at least four assists) has been the key in the Musketeers' longest postseason run since 2005, the year they last reached the Clark Cup Finals.
Yet it’s more than scoring that Knies provides. His contributions have helped the Musketeers convert 26.4 percent (9 of 34) power play chances and 87.8 percent (36 of 41) penalty kill chances in the playoffs.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pounder crashes hard on the boards. He creates takeaway opportunities. He supports each of his teammates, especially linemates Eeli Tolvanen and Aapeli Rasanen.
“(Knies) is a guy we depend upon all the time in all situations,” said Varady. “When it comes down to crunch time, he’s there for us.”
Knies learned his craft a year ago as a rookie. He didn’t score until his 15th game, providing a goal and an assist in a 3-2 shootout win over Youngstown, then tallied two goals the next night in a 9-4 win over the same squad on the way to a 5-goal, 8-assist season.
Of course, times were tough for that young squad, which finished with the USHL’s worst record (20-39-1), largely due to injuries and an unusually-high amount of concussions. Knies, the only Musketeer to play in all 60 regular-season games this season, is part of a team that is attempting to duplicate the feat that the 2014 Indiana Ice achieved, going from the worst record to winning the Clark Cup championship.
When Varady makes this statement, he’s not only referring to Knies. It’s Knies’ returning teammates that formed the core of a team that went into the Clark Cup Playoffs with wins in 17 of their final 22 games – forwards Tolvanen, Brian Rigali and Jackson Keane along with defensemen Jacob Wilson and Brady Ferner.
“Last year’s organization had some tough times,” said Varady. “We were really injured, we had a bunch of concussions and we played shorthanded most of the year. I think (the returning players) set us up for this year in term of their commitment to the organization.
“These guys, it’s an organizational accomplishment to play in the finals. I think a lot of people made some sacrifices along the way.”
Friday night, Knies was unsure if the high-scoring game from both teams would occur the following night in Game 2, a contest Chicago won, 5-1.
“This league and both teams are pretty tight in checking,” said Knies. “It was kind of extraordinary that there were so many goals, especially in the first period. Either way, no matter how many goals are going into the net, we have to stick to our systems, stick to our roles and that will give us success.”