MUSKEGON, MI - The Muskegon Lumberjacks had very little prep time for top Eastern Conference foe Central Illinois Sunday.
Despite that fact, the Lumberjacks turned in a complete game and dropped the Flying Aces 5-1 to wrap up a 2-1 weekend.
The exact opposite awaits Muskegon this week.
The Lumberjacks again face one of their main obstacles to an Eastern Conference title in the form of Cedar Rapids Saturday, but they have all week to prepare.
Or, at least after they rest up from their long weekend.
"It was a good weekend," Muskegon head coach Mike Hamilton said. "We gave the boys a day off Monday, and Tuesday is optional. We'll get back to work on Wednesday, go through some injury analysis and start preparing for a good Cedar Rapids team."
Muskegon is still tops in the Eastern Conference with 24 points, six points up on Central Illinois. Cedar Rapids sits in fourth place with 16 points, but have played just 14 games (like Muskegon) compared to 16 games for Central Illinois.
The Lumberjacks will welcome back Danil Gushchin this week after he helped USA U17s win gold at the World Championships.
The Lumberjacks also hope to get Mikael Hakkarainen back for the Cedar Rapids matchup, which drops at 7:15 p.m. Saturday.
Hakkarainen has averaged almost two points per game this season since his return to the Lumberjacks after a brief stint at Providence College. He missed Sunday's game with a minor injury, and Hamilton believes he'll be back this weekend.
Hakkarainen's hat trick Friday and 5-point weekend, to go along with a +5 rating, led to his being named the USHL forward of the week.
"Obviously we're happy (Hakkarainen) came back," Hamilton said. "It was a personal choice he had to make and we're the beneficiaries of that choice."
Muskegon also hopes to get Igor Larionov II into the lineup. Larionov has yet to suit up for the Lumberjacks since they signed him in late October.
Ironically, the RoughRiders also have a USHL player of the week in defenseman Kyle Looft, who posted a goal, two assists and a +4 rating in three games last week.
Cedar Rapids is led offensively by Nathan Smith, who has 14 points in 14 games.
Hamilton expects a good, intense hockey game Saturday.
"They generally play with a lot of skill and they're always a well-coached team," Hamilton said. "They've been one of the top teams in the last decade.We'll have to be good."
Muskegon hopes to carry over a hot power play into this week's contest.
The Lumberjacks finished 3-for-8 on the power play Sunday, and Hamilton said Cedar Rapids will be tough on special teams.
"We're just shooting the puck more," Hamilton explained. "We were trying to be a little too fancy. We tracked we were only getting a shot for every six passes, so we told them to try to go down to three passes and a shot. Getting more pucks to the net has translated to more goals."