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Weekend preview: Jacks open season with lengthy trip west

By Scott Bradford, 10/06/17, 10:00AM EDT

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LINCOLN, NE- Just like last season, the Muskegon Lumberjacks will begin their regular season away from home. Unlike last season, the road trip will be a long one.

The Lumberjacks kick off the 2017-18 season this weekend against two Western Conference opponents, the Lincoln Stars and Des Moines Buccaneers.

In four preseason games, the Jacks showed flashes of the high-end potential GM John Vanbiesbrouck has brought into Muskegon, going 2-1-1. Eight players return from last year’s team that made the playoffs, and Vanbiesbrouck acquired four more players this offseason with at least one year of USHL play under their belts.

Emilio Pettersen and Wyatt Bongiovanni headlined the offseason trades, and Bongiovanni has scored more USHL points than anyone else on the Jacks’ roster (44).

The returning group is strong as well- Anthony Del Gaizo was named captain ahead of his third USHL season in Muskegon, and younger brother Marc scored 23 points last season, the second-most of any returning USHL defenseman. Adam Brizgala is the Jacks’ starter in net, and is among the top goaltenders in the USHL following a 15-win season last year.

However, Muskegon will be tested right away on their long road trip. Lincoln will host the Jacks on opening night in one of the league’s toughest buildings, the Ice Box. The Stars just missed out on the postseason a year ago, and have a strong core group of players who are both experienced and skilled.

Perhaps the biggest offseason need for the Stars was in net, and they addressed it by trading for Nashville Predators prospect Tomas Vomacka. The Czech goalie had a fantastic season as a rookie last year in the NAHL, and had a ridiculous 1.43 GAA and .951 SV% in eight playoff games.

Friday’s game against the Stars is set for 8:35pm EST, and Scott Bradford will have the call live on 92.5 Nash Icon.

On Saturday, the Jacks will cruise over to Buccaneer Ice Arena in Des Moines, IA for a contest against the Bucs. Des Moines ended a 10-year playoff drought last year in head coach Dave Allison’s third year, and he returns behind the bench for the Bucs. Allison is known to Lumberjacks fans for his stint as a Jack from 1985-87, when he helped the Lumberjacks win a Turner Cup as a defenseman.

Like the series against Lincoln, the Jacks and Bucs split a pair last year, but both of those games were played at LC Walker Arena. At home, Des Moines is a strong team, and had an 18-10-2 record at Buccaneer Arena last year.

The Bucs made a recent splash, acquiring forward Nicolas Werbik from the Youngstown Phantoms. Werbik led Youngstown in points last year (39), and is the league’s second returning scorer from a year ago behind only Dubuque’s Cole Guttman. The Bucs also have the league’s third returning scorer in Julian Napravnik (38). Des Moines will rely on this talented European duo to lead them offensively.

The Buccaneers’ biggest question mark is in net, where they have just two games of USHL experience between Ryan Snowden and Jake Kucharski.

Saturday’s game is set for 8:05pm EST, and will air live on 92.5 Nash Icon.