UND connections help Sioux City to Clark Cup Final
Warroad's Grant Slukynsky, committed to Northern Michigan, also has been key for the Musketeers.
SIOUX CITY, Iowa — The Sioux City Musketeers pulled off a stunning upset in the United States Hockey League's Clark Cup Playoffs last week.
They swept one of the league's best teams of the last decade, the Tri-City Storm, in three games.
Since the USHL began keeping online stats 20 seasons ago, there have been four teams that have posted winning percentages of .785 or better. This year's Storm (.790) were the only ones to lose in the playoffs.
The Musketeers now advance to the Clark Cup Finals, where they'll meet Madison in a best-of-three series beginning Sunday.
There were a lot of factors leading to Sioux City's big upset, including key contributions from a few UND connections.
Sioux City associate coach Colten St. Clair, a former UND alternate captain, made an unconventional coaching move that turned out to be vital to Sioux City's upset over Tri-City.
St. Clair is in charge of running Sioux City's penalty kill. Tri-City had one of the USHL's most potent power plays this season, led by defenseman Mitchell Miller, who finished first in the league in goals (39) and third in points (83).
"He's a dominating player," Sioux City head coach Luke Strand said. "He killed us during the regular season."
Instead of a normal penalty kill setup, St. Clair had UND forward commit Dylan James shadow Miller everywhere he went on the power play, while asking the other penalty killers to adjust around James to cover other Storm players.
When Miller switched from the right point to the left, James followed him. When he wheeled around in the circle, James followed. When he dipped below the goal line, James did, too.
The blanket system worked.
Tri-City went 0-for-5 on the power play in Game 3 as Sioux City won 2-0 (the second goal was scored into the empty net as time expired). For the series, Tri-City went 0-for-10 with the man advantage.
Considering every game was a one-goal contest (excluding empty-netters), St. Clair's penalty kill was a huge key.
"Obviously, they had plenty of chances and have great players all around the ice," Strand said. "But to negate him (was big)."
St. Clair is up-and-coming in the coaching world.
It all started when he suffered a longterm injury as a senior at UND and spent time around the coaching staff to learn that side of the game. After graduation, he immediately jumped into coaching.
Last season, St. Clair was an assistant coach with the Omaha Lancers. But Strand and Sioux City general manager Andy Johnson lured St. Clair to the Musketeers in the summer of 2021.
"I love his competitiveness," Strand said of St. Clair. "He's very driven. He's very committed to making a difference, whether that be the individual lives of the players, his on-ice abilities or his teaching ability. He has great experiences to mesh all those things together."
James, who will come to UND in the fall, was one of Sioux City's key contributors to the series win. On top of his work on the defensive side of the puck, he also tallied four points in three games.
"Dylan James is a great human that works and prepares and is dedicated to the whole big picture of being a hockey player," Strand said.
Fellow incoming UND freshman Owen McLaughlin, the team's leading scorer during the regular season, was held to one point against Tri-City, but generated a lot of scoring chances. McLaughlin centers Sioux City's top line.
"Owen has the same traits as far as work ethic and development and wanting to be an elite player," Strand said. "The two of them have taken huge steps, including helping others around them. They both have been asked to put things on the back burner before. I think they've done a tremendous job of growing and playing a team game, which has led to individual success, but really made them special teammates."
Warroad's Grant Slukynsky, who is committed to Northern Michigan, also was big for the Musketeers in the upset of Tri-City.
Slukynsky scored the series-winning goal Tuesday night, popping home a puck during a scramble. He also took several key defensive-zone draws for the Musketeers.
Slukynsky is in his first year with the Musketeers, who traded for his rights last summer.
USHL Clark Cup Finals
Game 1: Madison at Sioux City, 3:05 p.m. Sunday.
Game 2: Madison at Sioux City, 7:05 p.m. Monday.
Game 3: Sioux City at Madison, 7 p.m. Friday.
Game 4 (if necessary): Sioux City at Madison, 7 p.m. Saturday.
Game 5 (if necessary): Madison at Sioux City, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday.