SIOUX CITY | Long before Sam Kurker became the second Sioux City Musketeer to record a hat trick this season, he took care of a linemate.
Kurker assisted on Adam Johnson’s goal with 8:01 left in the third period, snapping a 2-all tie en route to a 4-2 United States Hockey League win over the Fargo Force Saturday night in front of 2,377 fans at the Tyson Events Center.
“I remember Joe (Snively) forechecking and before that, I forechecked hard,” said Kurker, whose third goal of the tension-filled contest was an empty-netter with 44 seconds left.
“The puck bounced. I was curling up and looking for a defenseman. I heard Johnson yell my name so I threw it up front to him and he was able to bury it.”
Kurker, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound Northeastern University recruit, collected his fifth multiple-point game of the season. A second-round selection of the St. Louis Blues in the 2012 NHL Draft, Kurker had four assists in a 7-5 loss to Lincoln on Dec. 19 at the Tyson.
Third on the Musketeers with 28 points (15 goals, 13 assists), Kurker tallied the team’s quickest first goal of the season, a shot assisted by both Johnson and Snively 22 seconds into the opening period. Kurker scored his second goal at the 11:35 mark of the second period to give the Western Conference leaders a 2-1 lead, but Fargo (13-12-4) tied the game 69 seconds later on Mason Morelli’s unassisted goal.
“It was an unreal night for (Kurker) and it started right away on the first shift of the game,” said Musketeers Coach Jay Varady, whose 18-9-3 team maintained a 39-36 lead over second-place Omaha, which picked up its ninth consecutive win, 2-1 over Tri-City.
“The biggest thing, there’s a correlation between playing strong, physical hockey from a big-bodied player who produces points,” he added. “Sam was a working, physical player and he got rewarded with points. This weekend, he was a bear.”
A right wing, Kurker is the physical presence on the line that also features the speedy play of left wing Johnson and center Snively.
Johnson is a candidate for the USHL’s forward of the week, an honor that will be announced Monday. It was the second straight four-point game for the 6-foot, 154-pound University of Minnesota-Duluth recruit, who has produced six goals and nine assists while scoring in eight of his last nine games.
In fact, Johnson (5 goals, 14 assists in two seasons against Fargo) has now vaulted to second place in the USHL scoring race with 36 points (15, 21). Chicago’s Mason Bergh has a league-best 37 points (16, 21).
“Clearly when you watch him play, Johnson is the best player in this league,” said Kurker. “Skillwise, he’s so elusive. He gets away from opponents easily. He makes it easier for me and Snively. Snively’s the same way. Those two guys are top players in this league.”
Snively (12 goals, 15 assists) has had two points in each of his last four games. A 5-9, 160-pound Yale recruit, Snively and Avni Berisha each assisted on what was the previous fastest first goal of the season, Johnson’s red-lighter 33 seconds into a 4-3 shootout loss to Omaha on New Year’s Eve.
“This weekend, that line put together two back-to-back games where they were the best line for both teams,” said Varady. “That’s been our problem with Fargo, their top line has been dominant on nights where they won. This weekend, those guys led the troop.”
The Musketeers’ next seven games are on the road. Sioux City will play Eastern Conference games at Bloomington on Friday and Saturday, then will compete Sunday at Chicago.
Sioux City 4, Fargo 2
First period: 1, Sioux City – Sam Kurker (Joe Snively, Adam Johnson), :22. 2, Fargo – Brody Stevens (T.J. Roo, Mitch Slattery), 4:41. Penalties: Baudry, F, interference, 4:51; Snively, SC, slashing, 11:23; Beydoun, F, high sticking, 17:12.
Second period: 3, Sioux City – Kurker (Snively, Johnson), 11:35. 4, Fargo – Mason Morelli (unassisted), 12:44. Penalties: Baudry, F, roughing, 2:46.
Third period: 5, Sioux City – Johnson (Kurker), 11:59. 6, Sioux City – Kurker (Johnson), empty net, 19:16. Penalties: Stevens, F, roughing, 2:11; Wilson, SC, roughing, 2:11; Sylvester, F, cross checking, 3:17; Snively, SC, slashing, 4:30; Mostrom, F, charging, 5:57; Durflinger, SC, cross checking, 19:48; Morelli, F, roughing, 19:48.
Score by periods:
Fargo 1 1 0 -- 2
Sioux City 1 1 2 -- 4
Shots on goal:
Fargo 8 8 12 -- 28
Sioux City 11 13 15 -- 39
Power play: Fargo 0 for 1, Sioux City 0 for 5.
Goaltenders: Robbie Beydoun, Fargo, 38 shots, 35 saves, 59:15; Cam Gornet, Sioux City, 28 shots, 26 saves.
Referee: Walker Holton. Linesmen: Michael Houle, John Waleski.