MUSKEGON, MI- As the Clark Cup Playoffs continue to draw nearer, the Muskegon Lumberjacks are the hottest team in the USHL. The Jacks have won eight of their last ten games, and 11 of their last 13- more wins than any other USHL team in that span.
Muskegon holds a slim, two-point edge over third-place Green Bay in the Eastern Conference standings. With 11 games left in the regular season, the Jacks are hopeful they can hold off Green Bay and keep possession of second place, and in turn, home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Standing in Muskegon’s way is Team USA U18, who will take on the Jacks in a trio of games this week. Team USA will host the Jacks on Wednesday night at 7:05pm, the Jacks will then play the U18s at home on Friday, with the series concluding Saturday at Team USA Hockey Arena. The strange away-home-away schedule is due to the fact that one of the games this week is being played as a makeup game for a previously postponed game between these two foes.
The Jacks hosted Team USA last Tuesday, and Muskegon was able to take down Team USA U18 for the first time this season in a back-and-forth slugfest. Both teams love to score, and that was apparent in Muskegon’s 7-6 triumph, but Head Coach Mike Hamilton was quick to point out that his team will need to be more disciplined defensively in order to have consistent success against such a dangerous opponent.
Muskegon has had success in the offensive zone all season, but lately it’s been spearheaded by forward Cristophe Tellier, who was named USHL Forward of the Week after an 11-point outburst in Muskegon’s four games last week. Tellier has scored 14 points (7G, 7A) in his last five games, beginning with his first-career three-point game against Green Bay. Tellier followed that up with another three-point effort against Team USA before exploding for four points Friday against Youngstown.
Tellier’s linemates Jack Williams and Quinn Hutson have hardly been silent themselves- Hutson has five goals and five assists in the last five games, while Williams has chipped in three goals and seven helpers in that span.
That trio has led Muskegon on a recent tear that has seen the Jacks score five or more goals in five of their last seven. Of those five games, the Lumberjacks have poured in seven goals on three occasions.
The weekend series also sets up to be a potentially historic one, with two records well within reach for Muskegon. Danil Gushchin’s overtime winner against Youngstown on Saturday was his 64th as a Lumberjack, tying Matheson Iacopelli’s career record. Gushchin’s next goal will put him atop the Jacks all-time scoring list and into a tie for fourth in USHL Tier-One history (since 2002).
Muskegon’s next win will be one for the books as well- it will be Hamilton’s 92nd as head coach, which will tie him with Todd Krygier for the most wins in franchise history. With three games this weekend, Hamilton will have the opportunity to tie that mark and potentially break it.
While those records are in sight, Muskegon will have to break them against an extremely tough opponent in Team USA U18. As the squad prepares for the U18 World Championships, they have called up the top U17 players to bolster an already elite roster.
Muskegon has whittled their magic number down to ten, meaning that the Jacks can clinch a playoff berth this weekend, but it will take three Muskegon wins and two Dubuque losses in regulation.
Tickets for Friday's home game are available online at www.muskegonlumberjacks.com/tickets or call (231) 726-2400.