MUSKEGON, MI - The Muskegon Lumberjacks got a small taste of what it's like to play Dubuque Sunday in a 5-4 win.
The Lumberjacks know they're going to have to be on their toes when taking the ice against the Fighting Saints the next time.
Muskegon will get a double dose of Dubuque this weekend, as it plays host to a pair of games against its USHL Eastern Conference rival at L.C. Walker Arena beginning Friday.
The next tilt between the teams, slated for 7:15 p.m. Friday, should be interesting after Sunday's contest was what Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton termed "chippy".
"It was definitely a chippy game," Hamilton said. "It was a feisty game. I thought there were three or four dirty hits by them. We have a few guys banged up, and I think there are a few plays that are going to be looked at, so we'll see where we're at on Friday."
Most notably for Muskegon is Mikael Hakkarainen did not finish the game Sunday and will need to recuperate this week in order to get back on the ice.
For Dubuque, its second-leading scorer, James Sanchez, has been suspended for two games for head contact, according to the USHL website. That means he will miss both games this weekend.
Hamilton thinks Sunday's chippiness was just one of those things that happen when you have a team trying to compete hard.
Dubuque is currently 9-9-1-2, good for 21 points and fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Fighting Saints sit just three points out of second place, and want desperately to move up in the standings
"I don't think that's the style of team they are," Hamilton said of the Fighting Saints. "There were a couple of very questionable hits, but it's just one of those things that can happen."
While Muskegon continues to lead the league in goals scored (107) and goal differential (+54), Dubuque is third in the Eastern Conference with 74 goals, which just happens to be the number of goals they've allowed.
The Fighting Saints are led offensively by Matias Maccelli, who is tied for 11th in the USHL with 23 points (10 G, 13 A). Sanchez, who has 22 points, is second on the team, but as stated earlier will be out for both games against the Lumberjacks.
Muskegon counters with the forward duo of Egor Afanasyev and Bobby Lynch, each of whom has 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points, tied for fifth in the league. Defenseman Alex Yakovenko leads all blue-liners with 24 points (8 G, 16 A).
Muskegon's focus this week will be working on the special teams.
The Lumberjacks went 0-for-5 on the power play Sunday and allowed Dubuque to score a power-play goal on just three chances.
"They're a very skilled hockey team who gave us all we could handle," Hamilton said. "We're going to have to clean up a few things in regards to the special teams. We also played a little wide open, so we've got to tighten up defensively and eliminate some of their good looks."
The Lumberjacks have been very good at inserting affiliate players into their lineup when needed, and will likely look to add a couple this weekend to make sure they are at full strength.
The rematch with the Fighting Saints on Saturday will feature the popular Teddy Bear Toss.
For more stats and info, visit ushl.com.