SIOUX CITY | Only one United States Hockey League team enjoyed more success on home ice this season than the Sioux City Musketeers.
Waterloo outscored opponents 113-56 while posting a 24-4-2 mark during regular-season play at Young Arena, the only USHL venue where play is conducted on an Olympic-sized sheet of 200x98 feet. All other USHL teams (with the exception of Des Moines and Lincoln) compete on a standard-sized NHL rink that measures 200x85.
Young Arena will host Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals Friday and Saturday night, as Coach Jay Varady’s Musketeers face the Black Hawks. Waterloo forced a tie in the series when it rallied for a 2-1 overtime win Sunday at the Tyson Events Center.
“It’s an Olympic sheet, so it’s a bigger sheet than Sioux City,” said Varady. “They’re a team that plays it all year long. Look at their record at home. They have an unbelievable record at home. They know how to use it.”
Sioux City, which went 23-4-3 at the Tyson Events Center en route to winning the Western Conference regular-season championship, posted a 1-1-1 mark at Young Arena this season. Connor Ford, who scored the first goal of the Western Conference Finals during the Musketeers’ 5-2 Games 1 triumph, tallied both goals in a 2-1 win at Young on Nov. 11.
Waterloo recorded the second of its three overtime wins over Sioux City as Kevin Charyszyn tallied the game-winner in a 3-2 decision on home ice Dec. 9. The Musketeers had won four consecutive road games (as part of a nine-game winning streak) before falling 6-1 on March 11 at Young, where Alex Limoges scored two goals.
Speed plays a factor in Waterloo’s home victories. Sioux City has similar speed, as evidenced by Odeen Tufto’s shorthanded goal and Eeli Tolvanen’s breakaway goal, both in Game 1.
“You have to skate,” said Varady. “More importantly, they have that big ice sheet, so we have to cover the ice. We have to make sure our legs are moving. Again, we have to be physical when we get to situations.”
These two teams have allowed the fewest goals thus far among the four still alive in the Clark Cup Playoffs. Paced by USHL goaltender and player of the year Matiss Kivlenieks, the Musketeers have yielded six goals while posting a 4-1 record while Waterloo’s Robbie Beydoun, also 4-1, has given up nine.
Actually, Waterloo has yielded 10 goals. The Musketeers’ Tarek Baker, who played for the Bloomington team that lost to Dubuque in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, scored an empty-net goal with 1:30 remaining in Game 1.
Sioux City should be back in full strength this weekend. Charlie Kelleher, who has three goals and two assists in the Clark Cup Playoffs, missed Game 2 because of the flu, made the trip that the team took to Waterloo Thursday.
“We have to create more scoring chances than we did (in Game 2),” said Varady. “It was a little stagnant. Waterloo did a good job of protecting inside ice. We have to more sure we get to that ice, offensively.”
It’s also a 1-1 situation heading into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where the series moves from Chicago to Dubuque. No doubt there’s been some adversity in that playoff as well, as Eastern Conference regular season champion Chicago, playing in the conference finals for the first time since 2008, faces a Dubuque team that has appeared in seven straight conference finals.
Varady said the depth of both his Musketeers and Waterloo has played a factor in the series.
“We turned some pucks over in our breakout and we probably want to clean that up,” he said. “It’s just a little adversity in the series. It’s part of the playoffs.
“If you think you’re going to go through the playoffs and not think you’re going to lose a game, you’re mistaken. They’re a good hockey team over there. We knew they were a good team. We got into a tough game (Game 2) and they were able to find the goal in overtime.”