MUSKEGON, MI – A motivated Chicago Steel squad against a shorthanded, youthful Muskegon Lumberjack roster spelled a blowout in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Unfortunately, the 8-1 loss for the Lumberjacks at L. C. Walker Arena wasn’t the worst sight of the night.
Muskegon rested most of its top players in an effort to stay healthy heading into the playoffs, but a little more than midway through the game forward Oliver MacDonald was forced to head to the locker room with a leg injury. He couldn’t put any weight on one leg as he was helped off the ice.
The news from the locker room was good though. Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said the doctor said he will be fine moving forward.
MacDonald has been one of the most improved players on the Muskegon roster, and an effective penalty-killer all season.
“It looked scary,” Hamilton said. “He’ll be OK though. It was definitely a relief to hear he’ll be fine.”
The Lumberjacks scratched 12 players for the game and didn’t need anything points-wise, as they had wrapped up the top seed in the Eastern Conference already. Instead they chose to sit most of their top weapons to recharge and stay healthy heading into the postseason, which for them will begin Saturday, April 20 at 7:15 p.m. against an as of yet undetermined opponent.
Muskegon will face the worst remaining seed left after the first round matchups, which will feature No. 3 Youngstown hosting No. 6 Dubuque and No. 4 Cedar Rapids against No. 5 Team USA. The Lumberjacks will not see the Phantoms in the Eastern-Conference semifinals, but it still could be the RoughRiders, Team USA or the Fighting Saints.
“We’re going to prep hard for Dubuque and Cedar Rapids,” Hamilton said. “We just turn the page to playoff mode right now. We’ll work on the video side Sunday, and Monday we’ll be on the ice right back at it.”
The Lumberjacks still set a franchise record in wins and points with 41 and 86, respectively.
The Steel, meanwhile, needed just one point to secure the second spot and the second bye in the East, and they easily skated away with two points to finish at 78 for the season.
Chicago scored the final seven goals of the game against the overmatched Lumberjacks.
“I felt like we would give them a better game, but at the end of the day we saw their A-lineup and they’re a very good team,” Hamilton said. “I though we played really well in the first period but were completely dominated in the second.
“The guys got a look at what they need to work on during the summer, and at the end of the day we got to rest 12 of our players and I hope it pays dividends as we move forward. It was a good evaluater for us, and a couple players showed really well.”
Luke Reid got the Steel on the board less than four minutes into the game, but Bobby Lynch struck for his 21st goal of the season at 6:36 to tie the score.
Cole Quisenberry made it 2-1 Chicago nearing the 13-minute mark of the first period, and the final 40 minutes belonged to the guests.
Nick Abruzzese showed why he is the USHL scoring champion, notching two goals and three points to reach 80 points. He scored on a penalty shot and on a 5-on-3 power play.
The Steel also got a 5-on-4 power-play goal from Mathieu De St. Phalle 16 seconds later.
The Lumberjacks only had two power plays, and one of them lasted just four seconds.
For the complete final USHL standings, click here.