MUSKEGON, MI - The Muskegon Lumberjacks love a good challenge, so they'll be ready for Wednesday.
The Lumberjacks have faced the talented Team USA U18 squad twice this season, splittling them with a 8-3 loss on October 27 and a 6-4 win on November 1.
But both of those games came within the friendly confines of L.C. Walker Arena. This time Muskegon will take on the highly touted U18's in Plymouth, Mich at USA Hockey Arena.
The Lumberjacks will have to be ready early for the challenge, as puck drop is at 10:30 a.m.
"The guys enjoy playing them," Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. "They know the game will be highly competitive, and any time you play one of the developmental teams you get plenty of NHL scouts who love to come and evaluate the kids on the ice. They know people will be watching them."
The U18 team lost to a pair of Division 1 hockey teams last week. They lost 1-0 at Michigan State University Saturday and fell 7-3 at home to Lake Superior State University.
Muskegon knows how dangerous they can be based on what they've seen first hand.
"We know they’re one of the best teams you’re going to play in the USHL," Hamilton said. "We're going to have to eliminate as many odd man rushes as we can. We need to play tight defensively and have a lock-down mentality."
Wednesday's tilt will be the only game the Lumberjacks will play in a span of 12 days.
Once Muskegon finishes its job in Plymouth it will have eight days of no games with Christmas right in the middle of it.
Hamilton knows it's not easy to think about hockey at this time of the year.
"Really we're doing our best to keep everyone focused," he said. "We want to take care of business Wednesday and finish strong before we go into break."
Hamilton believes they'll need to be especially strong on their special teams to beat Team USA.
It would be a big boost to the power play unit if forward Mikael Hakkarainen returned from injury this week.
The Finland native is healthy and ready to go should Hamilton and company decide to use him. The dilemma though is they could give Hakkarainen an extra two weeks off to completely heal up should they decide to keep him out of the lineup Wednesday.
If they choose more rest of Hakkarainen they hope someone else will step up on the power play.
"We know Hakk is a really big piece to our power play, but right now we're trying to find that other guy that's going to be our shooter," Hamilton said. "We've been good but not great. There's definitely room for improvement."
Hamilton added he's happy with the amount of shots the Lumberjacks are taking with the man advantage, but he believes they're making it too easy on the goalie by not getting enough traffic in front of the net.
Besides backup goalie Keegan Karki, who is still battling through a knee injury, everyone else is healthy and ready to play.
Don't forget you can give the gift of the Lumberjacks to family and friends with the special Holiday Package 3-game plan. For $39 you can give a reserved (blue) ticket plus a free game program for each of the home games including Dec. 29 vs. Madison, January 13 against Central Illinois and February 9 vs. Central Illinois.
Deadline to purchase the Holiday Package is before the 7:15 p.m. game on Dec. 29. Contact Kaitlyn at (231) 724-5225 x255 or email@example.com to get the tickets today.
To see the complete USHL standings click here.