MUSKEGON, MI- For the first time all season, the Muskegon Lumberjacks will face the Madison Capitols, hosting the Caps for a doubleheader at LC Walker Arena this Friday and Saturday.
Already into February, these two Eastern Conference opponents have not seen one another yet, but have no doubt been keeping an eye on one another from a distance. At one point, both teams were out of the playoff hunt, but a franchise-record seven-game winning streak engineered by Muskegon has put them into playoff position, in fourth place. In the meantime, Madison crafted a franchise-record ten-game point streak, moving them to within two points of the playoffs.
Despite Madison’s pedestrian record (16-17-3), the Capitols are right in the thick of things, and playing their best hockey. Their ten-game point streak was snapped four games ago, but the Caps are coming off an overtime victory against the Dubuque Fighting Saints.
Madison relies heavily on goaltender Dryden McKay, who has been the USHL’s top workhorse so far, leading the league in games played (32) and shots faced (1,082). McKay is just one win behind the USHL leaders, and owns a 15-12-3 record on the season.
Former Capitol Vincent de Mey had nothing but praise for Madison’s netminder during his Lumberjacks Live radio appearance on Tuesday.
“[McKay] is a great goalie,” said de Mey. “I know him really well and he’s a tough goalie to beat.”
Will de Mey have anything to say to McKay when the former teammates face one another this weekend?
“If I score on him, I’ll definitely give him a chirp,” said de Mey with a laugh. “I’ll be yelling at him all game to try and get in his head. At the same time, I know these guys will be giving it right back.”
de Mey played 59 games for Madison last season, and another five this season. Before he was released by the Capitols, he scored 13 career goals for Madison. The fact that he was released by the team has given the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Los Angeles native extra motivation for the weekend series.
“Oh, no doubt, it’s extra motivation. I’ll be ready,” said de Mey.
The Jacks will need all the extra motivation they can get this weekend- Madison is surging toward a Clark Cup playoff spot, and Muskegon will be without star forward Mikael Hakkarainen.
However, they will still have Anthony Del Gaizo and Matej Pekar, the two team leaders in points with 43 and 34, respectively. Del Gaizo leads the USHL with 27 goals, and has scored in four straight home games. Pekar ranks third in the USHL with 27 assists, and has notched at least one point in each of the Jacks’ last nine home games.
Both Anthony and Marc Del Gaizo love to shoot the puck, and expect the brothers from Basking Ridge, New Jersey to generate some chances this weekend. Madison allows the most shots on goal per game (35.9) of any USHL team, while also firing the fewest (25.9) on net.
Anthony scored an incredible 14 goals in the month of January, and against Madison’s porous defense, should find some shooting lanes this weekend.
With only six points separating second-place Dubuque from eighth-place Madison, the East is close and getting closer. Muskegon is just one point behind Dubuque, and could move into one of the top two spots in the East this weekend.
Friday and Saturday night’s games begin at 7:15pm. Saturday night is trading card night sponsored by Reefer-Peterbilt. The first 500 fans through the doors will receive a pack of Lumberjacks trading cards!
Call 231-726-2400 for tickets!