By Kevin Wickersham
With Tuesday night’s 2-1 overtime victory the visiting Chicago Steel won their first USHL Clark Cup, defeating the Sioux City Musketeers three games-to-two.
In the battle between the Eastern and Western top seeds, right wing Tyler Gratton a 17-year-old Penn State commit, landed the deciding goal 11:30 into extra time to bring home the US Tier 1 National Championship. It was the series’ second overtime contest as the Musketeers took a high-scoring Game One 5-4, when Slovak left wing Phillip Knies’ power play goal ended it 2:27 minutes into the extra period.
Clark Cup MVP Eduards Tralmaks, awarded based upon overall postseason play, was a goal-scoring force netting the Steel ten (tying the USHL single-postseason record) and two assists, including three goals and three assists in the Finals. The Lativian left wing’s second period goal in Game Five tied the game after Carson Vance’s first period score grabbed an early Musketeer lead. Tralmaks’ points binge was somewhat unexpected after tying for just ninth on Chicago in scoring over the regular schedule with 11 goals and 14 assists in 46 games.
Minnesota Wild 2015 fourth round selection Ales Stezka was stellar in net, stopping 45 of 46 Sioux City shots in the deciding contest and outdueling USHL Player and Goaltender of the Year Matiss Kivlenieks. Stezka registered a 9-4-0 postseason record, including a 2.04 goals-against average and .936 save percentage compared with Kivlelieks’ 8-3-2, 2.08 and .925.
Harvard commit Jack Badini led all playoff skaters with 17 points (sixth-best in USHL single-postseason history), totaling seven goals and ten assists including the winning goal in Game Three of the Finals, as well as in the deciding Game Five of the Conference Semifinals against Youngstown. Badini also topped Chicago in regular season goals with 28, scoring third-most on the team with 42 points.
Also for the Steel, right wing Marc Johnstone and center Jake Jaremko excelled tallying 15 and 13 postseason points respectively. Graham Lillibridge (not your prototypical defenseman at 5-9, 144-pounds) and Ben Mirageas led all playoff blueliners in scoring, each with ten points, and finished first and second in power play points – Lillibridge with five, Mirageas with four.
Sioux City and USHL top prospect, right wing Eeli Tolvanen posted five goals and five assists in 13 playoff contests but was somewhat quiet in the Finals with just one goal and two assists. He led the Anderson Cup-winning Musketeers (USHL version of the NHL’s Presidents Cup for best regular season point total) by a wide margin with 1.04 points-per-game (30 goals, 24 assists in 52 contests) over the regular campaign. Center Kristian Pospisil paced the postseason Musketeers with five goals and nine assists.
En route to the title, Chicago defeated the Youngstown Phantoms also in five to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, then prevailed over the defending Eastern Conference champion Dubuque Fighting Saints three-games-to-one. Sioux City’s path wound first through Des Moines as they swept the Buccaneers in the semis, then went the distance against the Waterloo Black Hawks before drubbing them 8-3 in a deciding fifth game.
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