MUSKEGON, MI- The Muskegon Lumberjacks have put themselves in a good spot. With 22 games to play, they hold the third spot in the Eastern Conference, just two points behind second-place Dubuque, and are six points clear of fifth-place Green Bay.
But all that can change in a matter of 48 hours.
This weekend, the Jacks head to the southern tip of Green Bay, remaining on the shores of Lake Michigan, but a long way from home. The Friday-Saturday doubleheader will mark the final meetings of the season between Muskegon and Green Bay.
The 5th-place Gamblers have never been more desperate; now five points out of a playoff spot, they need to stay in the hunt long enough to get star winger Casey Mittelstadt back in their lineup. Mittelstadt is currently playing for Eden Prairie high school back in his home state of Minnesota.
Once Mittelstadt returns in mid March, this Green Bay team is a title contender. Until then, they need to grind out enough wins to give themselves a shot at a late run.
The Jacks have their sights not only on a playoff berth, but also on overtaking Dubuque for the East’s 2nd seed. The top two seeds in each conference hold home ice advantage in the best-of-five opening round of the Clark Cup Playoffs.
With the season nearly two-thirds complete and the trade deadline fast approaching, the next three weeks will be critical for the USHL teams that remain in the hunt. When the February 27th trade deadline rolls around, which teams will be buyers and which will be sellers?
We will begin finding that out soon, and this weekend begins the home stretch for the Jacks, who certainly appear to be buyers with the team they’ve constructed to this point. John LaFontaine has expressed the Jacks’ intentions to go after a top-six forward to bolster an already potent offense that has scored the second-most goals in the league.
Since Muskegon swept Green Bay out of town two weekends ago, the Gamblers have bounced back with two straight victories. Now, they’ll aim for revenge against the Jacks at their home rink, the Resch Center.
Green Bay has historically drawn well, and this year is no different: they draw more than 3,000 fans per game, the second-best mark in the USHL. Expect big crowds to rally behind their Gamblers, making it a hostile environment for the Jacks to play.
The Gamblers are 9-5-1 at home this season, and after playing on the road more than any other team in the league, have 15 of their final 22 games at home.
On the other side of the coin, the Jacks have been a solid road team. They’re 11-8-1 away from LC Walker Arena.
Over their last 12 games, the Jacks have notched at least a point in 11 of them. They are winners of eight of their last ten, and are playing their best hockey behind the dynamic duo of Collin Adams and Andrei Svechnikov. Adams now has 100 career USHL points, more than any other active USHL player.
There’s been a trend to Adams’ scoring during the last two months: two consecutive games with goals, three consecutive without goals, two consecutive with goals, three consecutive without goals, two consecutive with goals, and now three consecutive without.
That means Collin is due for a pair this weekend, right? Whenever he does score his next goal, he’ll move into second all-time on the Lumberjacks USHL goal-scoring list, passing Rem Pitlick.
This weekend’s games will both be aired live on 92.5 Nash Icon and hockeytv.com. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:05 EST both nights.