MUSKEGON, MI- The Clark Cup playoffs begin in Muskegon on Monday, but the Muskegon Lumberjacks still face two regular-season road games between now and then to conclude the 2017-18 regular season.
With home ice in the first round already in the Jacks’ back pocket, some may look at the last two games on Muskegon’s schedule and consider them relatively meaningless, but that’s far from the truth.
In fact, I’ll give you five reasons why the Lumberjacks have plenty to play for during the season’s final weekend.
1. USHL scoring race up for grabs
Anthony Del Gaizo has led the USHL in goals and points since January, and he hasn’t come this far to finish second. Leading the league scoring race by four points over Omaha’s Filip Suchy, Anthony has the opportunity to be the second Lumberjack ever to lead the USHL in points.
2. Anthony seeks milestones
Del Gaizo has scored with such proficiency this season that the Jacks’ captain finds himself with 99 career USHL points, and could become just the fourth Lumberjack ever to reach 100. With two more points, he would tie Matt Iacopelli for third all-time.
Anthony also sits at 39 goals on the season. One more would get him to the 40-goal plateau, a mark reached by only Iacopelli and Rem Pitlick in Lumberjacks history. Only four players have reached 40 goals in a single season since 2002, which is as far back as USHL.com keeps statistics.
Del Gaizo has also played the third-most games of any Lumberjack (155), and with one more game played, he’ll tie Mason Jobst for second all-time.
3. Don’t forget about Marc
The younger Del Gaizo is also on the brink of history, one point behind Christian Wolanin’s team record for points among defensemen. Wolanin, now with the Ottawa Senators, racked up 62 points in his Jacks career, and Marc is right on his heels. With just one more point, the UMass-Amherst commit would tie Wolanin’s record.
Marc also holds the USHL goalscoring lead among defensemen. His 12 goals are two clear of Tri-City’s Hugo Blixt.
4. Seeding could play a factor
Muskegon will finish as the three or four seed, regardless of this weekend’s results. Both the three and four seed will have home ice advantage in the first round, and then will have to win in the Eastern Conference Semifinal without home ice advantage.
However, depending on the results of the Conference Semifinals, the difference between the three and four seed could mean home ice in the Conference Final and beyond.
5. League honors still to be decided
Player of the year, forward of the year, and defenseman of the year remain up in the air, with the Del Gaizo brothers in the conversation for these honors. Anthony could be named player of the year and/or forward of the year, while Marc is in the running for defenseman of the year, and both brothers could be first-team All-USHL.
Mikael Hakkarainen could also be considered for one of the All-USHL teams, as his 1.31 points per game is the best number in the league among players who have played more than 30 games.
Matej Pekar will get consideration for the USHL rookie of the year, and is tied with Team USA’s Jack Hughes for the rookie point lead (54). However, he is overseas representing the Czech Republic in the U18 World Championships and will not play this weekend.
Bonus reason: Young talent gets a shot
Muskegon has called up five players from their affiliate list, two of which are expected to make their USHL debuts this weekend. John LaFontaine will get another look at Hunter Skinner and Cam Knuble, who have played a combined 54 games in the USHL. Cam McDonald debuted last Saturday in Madison, and the 17-year-old defenseman will likely take the ice again this weekend.
Two new faces- forwards Oliver MacDonald and Max Sasson- will travel with the team this weekend and likely make their USHL debuts. Both MacDonald and Sasson are just 17 years of age and played in the North American Hockey League this year.
Jacks fans can catch all the storylines this weekend on 92.5 Nash Icon and HockeyTV.com. Both Friday’s game at Team USA and Saturday’s game in Youngstown are scheduled for 7:05pm.