MUSKEGON, MI – If it weren’t for practices, the Muskegon Lumberjacks might forget what the L.C. Walker Arena ice feels like pretty soon.
In a three-week span, the Lumberjacks have just one home game, which was on February 23, and six road games.
That includes this weekend, when Muskegon plays away from home completely for the second weekend in a row.
On Friday the Lumberjacks travel to Dubuque for their only meeting at Mystique Ice Center with the Fighting Saints this season. They then immediately hit the road for Bloomington, Illinois to take on the Central Illinois Flying Aces.
Muskegon makes the 371-mile, six hour journey to Dubuque knowing it could be a team it sees again at the end of April.
“In regards to the Fighting Saints, it’s similar to the way we needed to play against Youngstown this past weekend,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. “Dubuque is another team we could see in the second round of the playoffs, so we have to play committed defensively and stay on top of our game.”
This is the third and final match between the Eastern Conference foes, who are separated by 22 points in the standings.
The two teams have split their only two meetings thus far, although the Fighting Saints have earned three points to Muskegon’s two since their loss came in overtime. Dubuque won the first meeting at L.C. Walker Arena 3-2 on December 7, while Muskegon rebounded for a 4-3 OT win the following day.
The Fighting Saints have a record of 22-19-3-4 but have scored just 150 goals and given up 159.
Dubuque is led by Matias Maccelli, who is tied for third in USHL scoring with 56 points (24 goals, 32 assists). Matthew Thiessen is Dubuque’s top goalie, with a 15-15-3-4 record, 3.00 goals against average and .888 save percentage.
The Lumberjacks have been stellar against Central Illinois this season, sporting a perfect 5-0 record. The most recent game resulted in a 5-1 road win for the Lumberjacks.
Muskegon is hoping for a return to full strength soon, as a sickness prevented several players from playing in Sunday’s loss to the Phantoms.
“We’re just looking to get through this weekend,” Hamilton said. “I think the guys are worn down a little bit with the amount of travel and games we’ve had in the last month and a half. Once we get through this weekend we’ll look forward to being home for a few weeks.”
The Lumberjacks are still the only team to have clinched a playoff spot in the East, although Western-Conference leader Tri-City has now qualified for the playoffs as well.
With just 12 games left, Muskegon has a 12-point lead on securing the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
For the complete USHL standings, click here.