MUSKEGON, MI- The Muskegon Lumberjacks will face the Anderson Cup Champion Chicago Steel in the Eastern Conference Final for the second-straight time, renewing a playoff rivalry that dates back to 2017-18. Muskegon and Chicago have been pitted against one another for each of the past two postseasons, and Muskegon has revenge on their mind after being eliminated by the Steel in each of those series.
The Lumberjacks and Steel have been atop the East for most of this season, but home ice advantage will go to the Steel over Muskegon, who was the only team besides Waterloo to break even against Chicago. Waterloo played just two games against the Steel while Muskegon, who finished second in the USHL, played 10. If anyone has proven their ability to knock out the USHL’s top team, it’s the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
The rivalry has percolated into arguably the league’s best, and the Eastern Conference Final has been played without at least one of these two teams just twice since 2014-15.
On paper, comparisons are plenty. Both teams score a ton but don’t defend with the best of the USHL. However, Muskegon has turned their defense into a major strength down the stretch, allowing only three goals total in their sweep of Green Bay in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. After not recording one all season, the Jacks notched two shutouts in the regular-season’s last seven games, proving that Muskegon can defend a Chicago offense that scored 4.9 goals per game, just one goal shy of the USHL record.
Muskegon will have their hands full with all four of the league’s top scorers suiting up for Chicago. In all likelihood, Steel forward Sean Farrell would have broken the league scoring record of 104 points had the USHL played a full 62-game season. Farrell finished with a staggering 101 points in 53 games played.
Like Farrell, Matt Coronato could have made history had the USHL played a full season. Only one player has ever scored 50 goals in a year, and Coronato finished the campaign with 48 tallies in 51 games.
Muskegon will try and blanket Farrell and Coronato with arguably the league’s top-four defensemen in Alex Gagne, Kyle Aucoin, Hank Kempf, and Davis Pennington. Add Rookie of the Year candidate Jacob Guevin to the list and the Jacks have a fearsome looking blue line.
Gagne and Aucoin have been particularly stingy, and Gagne finished second in +/- this regular season with an outstanding +35 rating. The mark broke a Lumberjacks record previously held at +32 by Colby Bukes and Alex Yakovenko.
Both Gagne and Aucoin checked in at +1 for the series against Green Bay, with Aucoin chipping in a point in the two-game sweep.
Offensively, Cristophe Tellier picked up right where he left off, scoring goals in each of the Jacks’ playoff wins last weekend. Tellier and Cam Berg each have recorded a pair of goals to lead the Jacks offense.
The schedule for the series is more complex than the Semis- Chicago has elected to host games one and, if necessary, three at Fox Valley Ice Arena with Muskegon playing game two on home ice. Game one is slated for Friday at 8:05pm EST, with game two back in Muskegon the following night at 7:00pm EST. If each team wins one of those games, the series shifts back to Chicago for game three on Monday night.
Playoff tickets are on sale now for next weekend's games.. Tickets are limited and can be purchased at www.muskegonlumberjacks.com/tickets. For more information, please call the Muskegon Lumberjacks Business Office at (231) 799-7000.