SIOUX CITY | Luke Strand hopes Saturday night’s wake-up call will ignite his Sioux City Musketeers.
Success has happened before due to similar circumstances. Back-to-back 9-2 and 7-2 losses two weeks ago at Team USA and Chicago sparked a fire that saw the Musketeers win four straight games in a span of eight days against Fargo and almost a fifth.
It was a somber locker room at the Tyson Events Center following the 2-1 overtime loss to the Sioux Falls Stampede. Strand believes his 15-13-6 squad will motivate themselves to regain momentum.
“Sometimes, the check engine light comes on your car, but you still run fine,” said Strand. “You know there’s something wrong. This might be a little bit of a wake-up call that’s maybe needed in a couple of scenarios.”
Sixth in the United States Hockey League’s Western Conference standings, Sioux City is still solidly in contention for the division’s playoff spot with a 36-29 points lead over seventh-place Des Moines and Lincoln.
Within the last seven weeks, look at what the Musketeers have done. Posting a 10-2-3 record that began with a 2-1 shootout win over Central Illinois on Dec. 15, the Musketeers have defeated three teams ahead of them in the West.
A 3-1 win over fifth-place Sioux Falls on Dec. 28 was part of a five-game winning streak that also included a 2-1 overtime win on New Year’s Eve over Omaha, now tied with Fargo for second. A 5-4 shootout loss to first-place Tri-City Jan. 5 still counted for a point in the standings for a team that went 6-0-2 before the brief two-game skid.
A whopping 14 Musketeers have scored at least one goal in the last 15 games -- not only scoring leaders Sampo Ranta (11 goals, 8 assists), Micah Miller (11, 5), Cole Koepke (14, 1) and Martin Pospisil (3, 13).
Scoring from secondary skaters such as Dylan Mills (5, 1), Parker Ford (3, 5) and Ryan Leibold (4, 3) has been a plus. Bauer Neudecker (1, 5) has also been a recent play-maker.
A right wing on a line centered by Pospisil, Neudecker has dished three assists to his new linemate, Czech Republic native and newcomer Matyas Svoboda (3, 2), who enters Tuesday’s game at Lincoln riding a five-game scoring streak.
Don’t forget Matt Jurusik (14-10-4, 2.52 GAA) who has won USHL goaltender of the week honors twice in this key stretch that propelled the Musketeers out of last place. Second in the league in wins (14), minutes (1,641) and saves (823), Jurusik converted 145 of 151 save attempts in the odd schedule against Fargo.
When asked if he could have imagined four straight wins over Fargo, Strand carefully considered his answer.
“Back in the early December time, no, because we were beating our head against the wall doing some awkward things," he said. "At the same time, I think we have found a way to do simple really well now. We have everybody buying into the same plan. Since that has been the case, it’s been a good push for us.”
Sioux City has a 1-1-1 record against Lincoln this season. Green Bay, currently third in the Eastern Conference, will visit the Tyson for games on Friday and Saturday.