MUSKEGON, MI - It might not be a year since the Muskegon Lumberjacks took the ice, but it might feel like it.
The Lumberjacks essentially had a week off since their last game, a 5-1 loss at Team USA's U18ers on Wednesday Dec. 19, to be with family to celebrate Christmas.
They'll all return on Wednesday the 26th and start to prepare for a big weekend where they play three games in four days.
"We absolutely are looking forward to getting back on the ice," said Muskegon head coach Mike Hamilton, who was recently named head coach of Team East for the NHL Top Prospects Game. "It's always good to get home and recharge the batteries. It's a long enough time to recharge, and then we'll get back to work and try to get things rolling again."
Hamilton will have his squad hit the ice for practice twice on Thursday to help get re-acclimated quickly.
Then the Lumberjacks will have plenty of game action to end 2018, as they host three games in four nights at L.C. Walker Arena beginning with Madison Friday at 7:15 p.m.
The two teams will rematch Saturday night at 7:15 p.m., and Muskegon will get a brief break Sunday before welcoming Eastern Conference rival Chicago to West Michigan.
The Lumberjacks had their way with both opponents earlier this season, but each game is different and there's no telling how games will go as the season progresses.
"Madison's definitely a team we're going to have to keep our guard up for," Hamilton said. "We've had success before, but we need to keep working hard to keep things rolling."
The Lumberjacks beat the Capitols 7-1 at Madison on Dec. 1. The Capitols will enter play on a four-game losing streak and with a league-worst 15 points.
After the two games with Madison the Lumberjacks will shift gears quickly to prepare for the Steel.
Muskegon is 3-0 versus Chicago, but it hasn't played the Windy City squad since Nov. 3, when it won on the road 5-2. The first two games were a 6-0 Muskegon win in its home opener on Oct. 13 and a 5-3 road win on Oct. 19 at Fox Valley Ice Arena.
At that point the Steel were just trying to stay in the middle of the pack of the Eastern Conference, but a lot has changed since then.
Chicago has roared into second place in the East, 10 points behind league-leading Muskegon, and has won eight of its last 10.
"We're definitely going to be seeing a different team than we saw before," Hamilton said. "They've picked things up and are playing very well right now."
The Steel's only loss in December came 6-5 at Youngstown on Dec. 14.
Nick Abruzzese is tied for ninth in the USHL in points with 29, but is one of the top play makers as he is tied for second in assists with 23.
The Monday night tilt has a special 8:15 p.m. start time, as it is the beginning of the Lumberjack's New Year's Eve bash designed to celebrate the year that was and look forward to an exciting 2019 with the Muskegon hockey team.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to get the tickets today.
To see the complete USHL standings click here.