MUSKEGON, MI – The Muskegon Lumberjacks have put in the work during the regular season, and have been rewarded.
Since the Lumberjacks have accomplished everything they can during the regular season, they’re ready for a mental break to gear up for the playoffs.
Muskegon has two more games left this week to conclude the regular season, in Plymouth, MI to take on Team USA U17 Thursday and at L.C. Walker Arena Saturday as host to rival Chicago, but its lineup will feature plenty of new and young faces since they’ve already locked up the No. 1 seed in the East.
“We’ve got the points locked up,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton began, “so we have nine of our affiliates coming to town and we’ll get a bunch of the younger players in to see how they’re doing.
“The importance of these games isn’t necessarily to win them, but to get some rest, stay healthy and get some minutes in for the younger players.”
Hamilton said Brandon Bussi will probably not see the ice in either of the games this week.
As for everyone else, Hamilton said it’s likely many of the veterans will play in one game but not the other, and it will depend on how many minutes they want to see to get themselves prepared for the next part of the season.
Even with many familiar faces out of the lineup, the matchup Thursday against the U17s, which starts at 7:00 p.m., should be an entertaining one.
“(The U17s) are a fun team to play against because they bring a lot of skill and a lot of pace,” Hamilton said. “They force you to play a skill-brand of hockey.”
The game Saturday against the Steel should be an intense one.
Chicago may need to win it to secure the No. 2 seed and the other bye out of the East. Currently it hold a one point lead over both Youngstown and Cedar Rapids with two games to play for each team.
The Steel host Central Illinois Friday night and play at Muskegon Saturday. The Phantoms have a home-and-home series with the U17s right after the U17s finish with the Lumberjacks, with a game in Plymouth on Friday and a game in Youngstown Saturday. The RoughRiders host Fargo Friday and travel to Central Illinois on Saturday.
Muskegon will watch all the results of those games with great interest.
“We will play the lowest (worst) seed that’s left after the first round, and since those three teams are separated by just one point it could be anybody,” Hamilton said. “We’re going to attempt to get through this weekend healthy, then sit back and begin to prepare for any team we might face once we get back on the ice in the second round.”
Hamilton said barring any injuries this weekend, his team should be at full strength by the time April 20 and 21 come, which are the dates of the first two games for the Lumberjacks in their playoff series against a to-be-determined team. Both of those games will be at L.C. Walker Arena
The Lumberjacks are on a three-game winning streak heading into the last week of the regular season. Their special teams, particularly the penalty-killing unit, seem to be playing well again lately as well.
“I think everyone was excited to lock it up after working so hard for so long,” Hamilton said of the wins this past weekend. “This week will be a mental relaxation for everybody, and then next week we’ll be back to all hands on deck to get ready for the playoffs. We’re ready for playoff hockey to get here.”
For the complete USHL standings, click here.