SIOUX CITY — Even though it was a difficult season, Sioux City Musketeers coach Luke Strand was disappointed to see it end.
The United States Hockey League announced Wednesday it was canceling the season effective immediately due to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the USHL, the decision was voted on unanimously by the Board of Directors to end the season now.
“This decision was not an easy one to make, but was a necessity in order to keep our athletes, staffs and fans in all 16 of our communities safe amid this international health risk,” said USHL President and Commissioner Tom Garrity in a press release. “While we believe our product is the best junior hockey that fans can view, we also understand the health of our athletes, employees, fans and communities is more important during this time.”
Strand had to say goodbye to players a little earlier than usual, which made the farewells harder.
“The abruptness of the season … the unknown of it was tough,” Strand said in a telephone interview. “You spend day to day with them, and you treat the guys like they're your own son. They’re spending that much time and trying to influence their lives on so many levels, and when they walk out that door, it’s always a tough pill to swallow.”
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Last week, the USHL decided to follow the rest of the hockey world and suspend its season. The Musketeers were in Muskegon last weekend preparing for a two-game series against the Lumberjacks, but had to come right back home after the suspension came down.
Sioux City was in the middle of practice when it learned of the news. The Musketeers were not allowed to have practices, morning skates or any other team activities at the time of the suspension.
Strand remembered the bus ride home as being a strange one, wondering if Sioux City was going to play any more games.
“We got pulled off the ice in Muskegon on Thursday and got back here on Friday morning to the finality of the league being suspended,” Strand said. “... When we got pulled off the ice, that was definitely a huge indicator. By the time we got on the bus, everyone was basically mentally wiped out. I think the dagger of that was the finality for everybody.”
The Musketeers’ 2019-20 season was a bit of a trying one for everyone. They finished the season with 40 points, eighth in the USHL’s Western Conference.
Sioux City went 16-24-7-1 on the season. The Musketeers went 3-7-1 in the month of February before losing their last two games of the season to Waterloo.
“It wasn’t definitely one of our favorite seasons,” Strand said. “We’re here for the guys, we’re here to make them better and we’re here to win hockey games. There was never taking your foot off the gas as far as how to attack a day or a season.”
Sioux City had 14 games left to play on its schedule for the remainder of the season.
Strand hoped those games would have provided some of the players to grow near the finish line.
“Fourteen games of a season is a lot of growth for the players to make,” Strand said. “This time is costly in development for the guys to continue their upward push.”
The Muskies had several injuries, suspensions and transactions. In all, they made 18 roster moves.
“Roster wise, we started to get some health, and our numbers on our roster were starting to go back up,” Strand said. “It was a very tough year on the injury front. It was a very tough year to find consistency in your lineup. It was almost playing musical chairs. … There’s nothing you can do other than hope the opportunity presents itself for others to step up. The fact of how tight-knit of how our group was, very impressive. I hope these are lessons that the returning players all got to learn.”
Sam Stange, who was traded Feb. 25 to Sioux Falls, led the Musketeers with 42 points. Stange had 24 goals and 18 assists.
AJ Hodges had 30 points. He had 17 goals on the season, and three of them were game-winning goals.
Ethan Haider had an 89 percent save percentage this season.