SIOUX CITY | Odeen Tufto was dancing a neat little jig in the Sioux City Musketeers’ locker room.
Musketeers were taking their turns in showing their moves while celebrating the team’s biggest victory of the season Tuesday night. Tufto and Brian Rigali scored goals two minutes apart late in the third period for a squad that advanced to the Clark Cup Finals following an 8-3 win over the Waterloo Black Hawks in the fifth game of the United States Hockey League’s Western Conference Finals at the Tyson Events Center.
“Not many people in their lifetimes who play in the USHL get to play in the Clark Cup Finals, so this is a special feeling,” said Tufto. “We’re going to enjoy tonight. But we have a quick turnaround because we play Chicago Friday night, so right now it’s great, but there’s work still to be done.”
Sioux City is playing in Clark Cup Finals for the first time since the 2004-05 season. Coach Jay Varady’s Anderson Cup champions will host the Eastern Conference champion Chicago Steel in Game 1 of the Clark Cup Finals Friday night, beginning at 7:05 at the Tyson Events Center.
A total of 2,453 fans remained in their seats as green, gold and white streamers were thrown from the stands. They saw the Western Conference champions bolt to a 3-0 first period lead, jumping out of the gate on Tarek Baker’s rebound goal off linemate Jackson Keane’s miss five minutes into the game.
“I think we were ready to go,” said Varady. “The other thing, I think we were opportunistic tonight. We capitalized on our chances when we got them, but it’s just like Waterloo, they always outshoot you. They create chaos all the time and did that tonight against us. We were able to hold them off and I thought we had opportunities we buried.”
Sioux City capitalized on puck turnovers in each period, beginning with Baker’s third goal of the series. Kristian Pospisil, in a 1-goal, 2-assist performance, got his stick on a puck intended for Garrett Klee and buried it for a 5-0 lead with 7:53 left in the second period. Rigali’s third-period goal was also off a Waterloo turnover.
Waterloo’s Bailey Conger scored his team’s third power play goal of the series with 3:08 remaining until the second intermission, then assisted on Grant Gabriele’s goal about a minute later. The Black Hawks continued their rally on Ben Copeland third goal of the series two minutes into the third period to pull within 5-3.
“We just had to stick together,” said Waterloo defenseman and alternate captain Mikey Anderson. “We dug ourselves in a hole early and from there, it was try to just chip away at it, throw some pucks at the net. Matiss (Kivleniecks) is a great goalie, so we knew we had to get pucks and bodies at the net. Once we started doing that more consistently, we had momentum.”
Kivlenieks, the USHL’s goaltender and player of the year, stopped each of Waterloo’s final 13 shots. Pospisil and Phillip Knies assisted on the Tufto goal that began the 3-0 run that ended the game and made the Musketeers 6-2 on the post season.
“Posp just made a great play like he always does,” said Tufto. “I was fortunate enough to put it in the back door. It was a big goal. He’s played great the whole series. Our line plays well when he’s moving the puck. The last two games, he’s been doing that.”
“This is great,” said Musketeers’ defenseman and captain Jacob Wilson. “We went up 5-0, then we let up three goals so we started to get a little tense on the bench. We calmed down and we just kept pushing. Guys stepped up and scored some big, key goals. We did what we had to do and we held our rope. That’s our saying, hold the rope. We were pretty resilient tonight.”