MUSKEGON, MI – The Muskegon Lumberjacks are preparing to take on a familiar face Friday when they return home to the L.C. Walker Arena.
Well, sort of.
The Lumberjacks take on the Fargo Force Friday at 7:15 p.m. to start a two-game homestand, but they haven’t seen the Force since the first game of the season way back on September 28, 2018.
Much has changed for each team in the past four months since the Lumberjacks defeated the Force 4-3.
“It seems like forever since we got to play them,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. “They’re one of the best teams in the USHL. As we’ve talked about before, this stretch of hockey this month is probably the toughest of the season for us.
“I’m sure both of our styles have changed so much since the beginning. The tendencies are the same in certain situations like face-off plays and what they’re trying to do there, but I think we’ll find their overall system will be more in place. Overall though we’ll really be starting from scratch with our video preparation.”
Each team has added a couple of new players in the past week.
Muskegon added forward Max Ellis and defenseman Declan Carlile from Lincoln in a deal involving five players and a pair of draft picks.
Similarly, Fargo picked up forward Jeremy Davidson from Central Illinois and added defenseman Libor Zabransky from the Western Hockey League.
Fargo and Muskegon each played a three-game weekend and are getting acclimated to the new-look rosters.
“The two new guys are moved into town and we’re looking to get back to being fully healthy,” Hamilton said. “It was a tough weekend. We got back into town (Monday) morning, and everyone got to relax the rest of the day and (Tuesday) morning. We’re ready to refocus and get back at it (Tuesday) afternoon.”
Hamilton said Fargo will play similarly to Tri-City in that they have skilled forwards and are a team which plays very tight defense and provides very little room for the opposition.
Fargo boasts one of the best lines in the league, which includes both of the team's all-times goals scored record holders in Hank Crone and Ben Meyers.
Meyers is one of the hottest forwards in the league right now, as he was named the USHL’s Forward of the Week Monday after totaling four goals and three assists.
Muskegon’s recent trend of playing hot teams and hot players continues this weekend. In addition to facing Meyers, Muskegon will try to slow down the reigning USHL defenseman of the Week in Cam York of Team USA U18s Saturday night beginning at 7:15 p.m.
Last week the Lumberjacks were tasked with playing all three USHL players of the week, as they all played for Tri-City.
This will be the fourth time Muskegon has played the U18 squad and third at home. Team USA has won two of the previous three.
That doesn’t even include the two preseason games the two teams played.
“We play them more because we’re so close to each other,” Hamilton said. “It’s a fortunate and unfortunate thing. It’s unfortunate only because they’re so good and it’s really tough to get a win against them, but at the end of the day they help make us a better team because of that skill.
“There’s a reason why we played them twice in the preseason, and that’s so we could figure out where we were at. They helped us to identify some of the areas we had to improve upon. The amount of offense they bring really forces you individually to focus on your decision and taking care of our own zone.”
For the complete USHL standings, click here.