MUSKEGON, MI- Coming off a stretch of four games in five days, a regular two-game weekend will be a welcome respite for the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
However, this weekend’s opponent, Team USA U17, is a squad that’s far from easy to prepare for. The hand-picked batch of 2004-born players has started their USHL strong- somewhat of a rarity for the U17s.
So far this season, the U17s have a record of 5-3-2 through ten USHL games- a better winning percentage than their U18-counterparts. One of the U17’s five wins came against Muskegon back in November, a game in which Team USA scored ten goals.
Since then, the Jacks have avenged that loss, beating the U17s 4-3 in goalie Nate Reid’s first start as a Lumberjack back on January 2. Muskegon is playing some of their best hockey right now, and won three games in three days last week. The Jacks’ win streak was cut short by Team USA U18 on Monday in a game that was Muskegon’s fourth in five days, while Team USA was playing on three day’s rest.
Cameron Berg enters this weekend series red hot, having scored at least a point in ten consecutive games. In his last four games, Berg has tallied four goals (including a hat trick) and three assists.
“He’s committed to playing hard every day,” said Head Coach Mike Hamilton. “He has changed his demeanor and the way he prepares, and the guys have figured out that if you put the puck on his stick, we’re going to score more goals.”
Blueliner Jacob Guevin has been dynamite for Muskegon as well, and his 17 points are second among all rookies this season. League-wide, Guevin has scored the third-most points of any USHL defenseman.
“His defense is as good as his offense,” said Hamilton. “He reads the play really well, skates well, has an active stick, and consistently puts himself in a position to make plays. [Guevin] has been way more than we anticipated.”
“I would have to think this series against the U17s plays into his skillset,” continued Hamilton. “There will be some open ice and plenty of skill, which fits Guevin well.”
Guevin and Berg will have their hands full with this high-scoring group of U17s that have scored 5.2 goals per game in USHL play this season. Their power play is the class of the league at 33.3 percent, and the youngsters can be devastating when given space.
“We’ve got to be committed as a team to play team defense and keep the game in front of us,” said Hamilton. One mistake against these guys leads to an odd-man rush. What stands out to me is their entries- they’re maybe the best I’ve seen in the league.”
As for any weaknesses the coaching staff may have found on Team USA?
“We’ll see,” said Hamilton with a laugh. “We’ve got a few things, but it doesn’t always line up how you draw it up on the board…. We’ll see.”
Both Friday and Saturday’s games are slated for 7:00pm at Mercy Health Arena. Tickets are not on sale to the general public, but games will air on the Lumberjacks Broadcast Network (HockeyTV.com / mixlr.com).