MUSKEGON, MI - The Muskegon Lumberjacks are set to hit the road again after two hard-fought games at home against Dubuque this past weekend.
Anyone who looks at the standings might think Muskegon's two games at Western Conference cellar dweller Omaha this weekend will be just a formality, but that's not how the United States Hockey League's best team is approaching it.
The Lumberjacks, who have been the hunted all season, will instead go into enemy territory Friday and Saturday expecting an ambush.
"People don't understand how hard it is to win in this league," Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. "I was watching video of (the Lancers) Sunday and they play fast and they play hard. We're not going to be the team that lets their guard down, because it's really hard to win in this league."
The Lumberjacks will practice through Wednesday before boarding a bus late Wednesday and driving through the night to get to Omaha, a 637-mile trip which could take close to 10 hours to complete.
One there they'll settle in before eventually hitting the ice for a practice Thursday to prepare for Friday's game, which is at 8:35 p.m. EST, and Saturday's 8:05 p.m. tilt.
The Lumberjacks want to be ready for anything once the puck drops.
"We respect every opponent we play because everyone competes hard," Hamilton said. "This past weekend is the perfect example. Dubuque is in the middle of the Eastern Conference, and they gave us everything we could handle, and we were fortunate to come out with a win. So, Omaha's record means zero to me."
Omaha is coming off of a 4-3 win over fourth-place Central Illinois Sunday, and lost just 2-1 Saturday to a hot Chicago squad which has won nine out of their last 10 to surge into second place.
Muskegon has a league best 19-4 record and 38 points. Omaha's 7-13-0-2 record and 16 points is better than only Madison.
The Lumberjacks continue to lead the league in scoring at 113 goals. Waterloo is next at 93 goals scored. The Lancers have scored 56.
Omaha's biggest scoring threat is Brendan Furry, who has 18 points in 16 games. Muskegon's Danil Gushchin meanwhile has 18 points in 18 games.
Muskegon will be looking to break through on the power play this weekend. It hasn't scored on its last 11 power play chances.
"Always wanting to win special teams," Hamilton said. "I thought we were deserving of better (results on the most recent power plays). We were getting 1.5 shots every minute of the power play and had good net presence. We’re generating chances. We’re doing the right things. Any time you can get between 1.5 and two shots a minute on the power play you're doing something right."
Muskegon's other big focus this week is finishing periods and games.
The Lumberjacks gave up a goal with just six seconds remaining in the first period and another goal with only 1:30 left in regulation in their most recent game against Dubuque Saturday. On Friday they allowed a game-winning goal with 1:11 left in the game when overtime was drawing near.
"We've had a couple breakdowns lately, and one which cost us a point," Hamilton said. "Those aren't situations we work on a ton at practice, so it's an area of focus right now."
For more stats and info, visit ushl.com.