SIOUX CITY | One thing about the Sioux City Musketeers, they have skills.
Case in point, late last week during the USHL Fall Classic, Samuel Salonen and Sampo Ranta recorded hat tricks in consecutive games.
Salonen, the latest of the Finland skaters who have made their presence known with the franchise the last five seasons, scored all of the goals in a 3-2 win over Cedar Rapids. The next night, Ranta, another native Finn, tallied three goals for a team that lost a 4-1 lead when Muskegon rallied for a 5-4 overtime victory.
“I like our skill,” said Musketeers Coach Luke Strand, who begins his second stint as head coach Saturday night at Fargo.
“But we have to utilize our skills as a group. We have lots of individual talent. Right now, we’re learning how hard it is and how good we can be when we stick together and not let that talent go off on its own page. When we do that, those moments are very exciting and it’s very good hockey.”
Ranta, who tallied six goals and three assists last season, is one of six returning players from last season’s 40-13-7 squad that won the franchise’s first Anderson Cup since the 1985-86 season. It was a memorable year as Coach Jay Varady’s club not only won its second Western Conference regular-season title in the last three years, but it reached the Clark Cup Finals, falling in an emotional five-game series to the Chicago Steel.
There’s a potential line that involves two native Minnesotans, left wing Cole Koepke (3, 2) and right wing Micah Miller (4, 9).
Miller had a goal and four assists in the 13-game Clark Cup Playoff run which included a first-round series sweep over Des Moines and a hard-fought five-game series win over Waterloo in the Western Conference Finals. Koepke is a left wing who had three goals and two assists before a knee injury in mid-December.
Forward Solag Bakich (7, 6) had three goals and three assists after he came in a trade from Des Moines. Defensemen Brady Ferner (2, 8) and Keegan Mantaro (6 assists), will each begin their third year in the league when the puck drops Saturday night.
Salonen led the Musketeers in a 3-2-1 preseason with five goals, one more than Ranta. Younger talent is evident throughout the ice, such as Mathiu De St. Phalle, a 17-year-old native of Glencoe, Illinois, who had two goals in a 5-2 preseason win over Sioux Falls.
Matt Fawcett had a goal and an assist in that same win and finished preseason play with two goals and two assists. Three of Parker Ford’s five assists came against Muskegon when he was paired on the line with Ranta.
The Musketeers acquired Dorian Dawson from Fargo on Monday of this week to add depth to a defenseman corps that also includes Luke Johnson, Lucas Bahn and Sweden native Calle Ehrnberg. Goaltender Matt Jurusik brings the experience of two collegiate years of hockey.
Consistency is going to be one of the things Strand looks for from this young group.
“I think we’re capable of playing hockey at the end of the year, our best hockey of the year, because of our youth,” said Strand. “Right now, they might be naive enough to know how hard it is because of our youth. Our improvement will be measurable by the end of the year for sure.”