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Lumberjacks ready to hit the road, rack up the miles

By Scott Brandenburg, 11/27/18, 12:30PM EST

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Muskegon preparing for 3-city, 3-game, 1,000-mile round trip

MUSKEGON, MI - The Muskegon Lumberjacks thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks, four games and Thanksgiving holiday at home in the latter part of November.

But as the calendar gets set to turn to December, they're ready for another challenge.

And as intimidating as a bus trip which features three games in three different cities in three days is, Muskegon is excited about the grueling 1,000-mile trip that runs through Green Bay Friday, Madison, Wisc. Saturday and Dubuque, Iowa Sunday.

"We are ready to go," Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. "We had a good weekend. Taking two of three is never bad. Even though you never like to lose, we still accomplished our goal, and we're ready for the next one."

The loss Hamilton is referring to is Muskegon's most recent game, a 6-3 loss to Green Bay on Saturday, one night after Muskegon beat them 8-3.

In order for the Lumberjacks to avoid their first losing streak of the season they'll have to regroup in a hurry against the Gamblers after making the 400-mile journey to the west side of Lake Michigan Friday.

Muskegon (15-3) still sits in first place in the Eastern Conference with 30 points, which is six points better than Central Illinois and just one point clear of Western Conference leading Tri-City.

Green Bay (8-8-2-1) resides in fifth place with 19 points. Madison (5-9-1-2) is in last with 13 points and Dubuque (8-8-1-2) is right there with Green Bay at 19 points.

There may be plenty of distance between those three teams and the Lumberjacks in the standings, but Hamilton is still expecting a battle each night, especially given the travel.

The 'Jacks are also embracing the opportunity to spend some serious time together.

"We opened the city on the road, but since then we've just had a bunch of one-offs as far as road games," Hamilton said. "There'll be lots of traveling, and we'll be together for a bit.

"Three games in three days is a challenge. We'll have to prep our bodies with lots of hydration to get lots of energy to make it through."

The Lumberjacks are also healthy and will help from some affiliate players. Hamilton said he's got 14 forwards and nine defenseman at his disposal, so he has "lots of bodies to spread the minutes around."

One of the bigger questions of the week will be how to use leading USHL goalie Brandon Bussi.

The 15-game winner has proven dependable all season thus far, but three games in three days while on the road is asking a lot. Backup goalie Keegan Karki is still not 100 percent, and his status is up in the air, so if he can't go the Lumberjacks may again need to lean on an affiliate goalie. They currently have Cullen DeYoung and Xavier Medina listed on their roster.

This will be Muskegon's first look at Madison and Dubuque this season.

The Capitols have been offensively challenged so far this season with just 32 goals. The Fighting Saints have scored 63 goals, but are -5 in goal differential as they've given up 68 goals.

Muskegon, meanwhile, leads the league with 91 goals and a goal differential of +45.

The Lumberjacks once again have two of the hottest players in the league.

Alex Yakovenko won the USHL Defenseman of the Week for the second straight week after recording five points. Egor Afanasyev joined him as the USHL Forward of the Week based on his seven points in three games.

The Lumberjacks are getting used to having the bullseye on their backs this season, and are hoping to play accordingly.

"When you have early-season success you start drawing some attention to yourself," Hamilton said. "People then start circling your game on the schedule.

"We're still preparing the same way though, and still working hard to be better than we were yesterday."

For more stats and info, visit ushl.com