One tough test has turned into a full-on final exam for the Sioux City Musketeers. If the team wants to make it to their first Clark Cup Final in nearly a decade, they've got some studying to do.
The Waterloo Blackhawks team the Muskies will face, has been dominant all season. The Blackhawks won the Anderson Cup, given to the league's best team during the regular season. And at one point, they set a USHL record going unbeaten in 23 consecutive games, while winning 16 straight during that streak.
The Hawks are also averaging 6.6 goals per game in the playoffs, racking up 20 in their 3-game sweep of Sioux Falls.
But the Muskies aren't cowering in the corner, they split with Waterloo this season, three games apiece. On paper, it may look daunting, but the Muskies are ready for a battle.
"It's going to be a tough matchup," said Brandon Hawkins, the Musketeers' leading goal scorer in the playoffs. "I think we've got a few tougher guys on our team that will be able to go in the corners and be a little more physical with them and I think we'll be able to take it from them."
"They've got a lot of speed and a lot of skill," said Neal Pionk, the Musketeers' defenseman who leads the team in plus/minus. "They're very good with the puck all over the ice. We can transition them, but I think if we play good "D" if we play smart, we'll be alright."
"You obviously have to respect them and what they've done all year," said Jared Thomas, the Musketeers' forward who leads the team in playoff assists. "The guys they have on their team are all good players, but you can't be afraid of them either. We've beat them three times this year and we've got to beat them three more times."
Game one of the Western Conference Finals gets underway Friday in Waterloo at 7:05.