MUSKEGON, MI- Going into this COVID-19 affected season, the Muskegon Lumberjacks knew there would be scheduling hurdles along the way. But just because the Jacks saw it coming, doesn’t make it any easier to attack this brutal stretch of four games in five days.
“What’s really made the last couple weeks difficult has been the injury bug,” said Head Coach Mike Hamilton. “But we get [Brad] Marek and [John] Larkin back in the lineup and [Hank] Kempf and [Ben] Strinden are skating again but not quite ready to play.”
“Four games in five days is definitely a challenge but that’s what we train for. Hopefully our team depth helps us out during this stretch.”
On the bright side, the Jacks won’t have to travel far this weekend, as Muskeogn will host a trio of games on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before hitting the road on Monday to take on Team USA. Thursday’s game against Youngstown will be followed by a pair against Green Bay before the Jacks head to Plymouth to finish out the long weekend.
Thursday’s matchup against last-place Youngstown appears favorable on paper, but Hamilton is quick to point out that this Phantoms team has already beaten the Jacks this year.
“There’s nothing but respect for our opponent,” said Hamilton. “We’ve seen them first hand and we know how good they are. After getting some time off, they came out and won two of three last weekend. We’ve scouted them on video and know how good they’re playing- there is zero looking past them right now.”
Following one game against Youngstown, the Jacks will be facing the Gamblers for the second-straight weekend after settling for a split in last weekend’s games against Green Bay.
“We are definitely going to get to know each other really well,” said Hamilton. “We’ve gotten to see that this team is for real. Their blueline is as good as advertised and both goalies are tough to get anything past. To play them four times in a two-week period... the guys are developing a rivalry and maybe even some dislike for one another.”
Speaking of dislike, last weekend in Green Bay, Jacks Captain Dylan Wendt fought Green Bay defenseman Xan Gurney. Muskegon would go on to come from behind and win that game after Wendt energized his teammates.
Lumberjacks goaltender Nate Reid has made three consecutive starts for Muskegon, and following the trade of Christian Stoever to Sioux Falls, it could be Reid who has the inside track on becoming the Jacks’ starter.
However, Hamilton isn’t ready to anoint Reid as his number one just yet.
“He’s been doing what Jan [Skorpik] did the last few weeks: giving us a chance to win. We made the decision to let Stoever go, and now it’s going to be a battle between Skorpik and Reid. We will let whoever has the hot hand go at this point.”
Muskegon concludes a difficult stretch with a road contest against Team USA U18 on Monday afternoon (4:05pm puck drop). Team USA U18 has started out 3-3-0 in USHL play so far, but one of their wins has come against Muskegon, a convincing 9-3 win on December 16.
All three home games are slated for 7:00pm puck drops, and will be open to a very limited number of fans. However, all three games will be broadcast live on the Lumberjacks broadcast network (free mixlr audio and PPV video via HockeyTV.com).