SIOUX CITY — The Sioux City Musketeers were riding high coming into the USHL Western Conference Finals, but after Game 1, those warm feelings have disappeared.
The Musketeers came into the opening game of the series with plenty of reason for optimism, fresh off of a semifinals road sweep over Omaha. Now, after a five-goal loss to rival Fargo, the Musketeers are playing for their lives.
Sioux City lost to Fargo on Friday in the first game of the conference finals, 6-1, in a contest marked by frustrating moments and disappointment for Sioux City, as well as one enormous brawl.
The first period was a rough one for Sioux City, as the Musketeers gave up three goals to the Force in the span of seven minutes. The first one came from Fargo forward Jake Braccini, on a play that enraged the Sioux City crowd.
On the play, Braccini skidded into and knocked over Musketeers’ goalie Akira Schmid. After a several-minute review, the referees announced that the goal would count, and Fargo took a 1-0 lead.
The next goal was by Force forward Cody Monds, with assists from Aaron Huglen and Tristian Broz.
The third goal came at the 6:38 mark of the period, courtesy of Huglen.
At the end of the first period, Sioux City was down, 3-0. The Musketeers had nine shots on goal in the game, while Sioux City had seven.
Just over two minutes into the second period, Fargo scored again, as Braccini hit his second goal of the game.
Soon after, a massive fight that included nearly every player on the ice led to a lengthy delay, and the ejection of several players, including Fargo starting goalie Brennan Boynton.
Once play resumed, Sioux City scored its first goal of the day at the 10:56 mark, as Ethan Edwards slapped it in to put the score at 4-1 in favor of Fargo.
But before the second period ended, Fargo snagged another score as Braccini scored his third goal of the day. After two, Fargo led Sioux City, 5-1.
While fighting is not encouraged in the USHL, head coach Luke Strand admitted that, down by four goals, the second-period scrap may have done some good for his team as they attempted to battle back from a four-goal deficit.
“I love our energy, and I love that we have passion about how we play and what we do,” Strand said. “But, we’ve got to take control of what we can control, and get rid of the other, ... I thought it helped, for sure. Minus the idea that nobody from Fargo sat in the box. I thought it really helped.”
In the third, Fargo added one more goal to its total with 4:04 left in the game, this one from forward Bear Hughes. The 6-1 score stood, and the Force walked away with a five-goal victory.
“Not the start we wanted or the direction,” Strand said. “At the same time, we know the quality opponent we played. We’ve got better inside, for sure.”
Nearly a dozen games into their season series, there seems to be a bit of bad blood between the Force and the Musketeers. Before the second period fight, Boynton purposely broke several Musketeers’ players hockey sticks, and the Musketeers were called for a charge after a Sioux City player made contact with the Force goalie.
That play led to the brawl that stirred the Sioux City crowd into a frenzy, and made it clear how the two teams feel about each other.
There aren't many kind words being exchanged.
“We’ve played them 10 or 11 times, including pre-season,” Ethan Edwards said. “There is definitely some good and bad blood between us. It’ll be good. It’s a good series and a competitive series. We don’t like them, and they don’t like us. It’ll be a good game two.”
Fargo finished with 27 shots on goal, while Sioux City had 32.
With a Game 1 loss in the books, every game is do-or-die for the Musketeers. A win tomorrow in Fargo would push the series to a deciding third game on Monday night, and loss would end Sioux City’s season.
“The gift of a good team is, one, a short memory, and two, a lesson to be learned,” Strand said. “You bounce back when you stay together. Everybody’s heart in that room is intertwined, we’ll be ready for a gut-check.”
With the loss, Sioux City is now down 0-1 in the best-of-three series. Game 2 will be played Saturday at 6:05 P.M., in Fargo.