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Muskegon returns home hoping to build some momentum against Central Illinois

By Scott Brandenburg, 02/05/19, 1:00PM EST

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The Lumberjacks lost their last game but like the way they're competing heading into a pair of games at L.C. Walker Arena

MUSKEGON, MI – It might sound odd that a team wants to build on its momentum after a loss.

But that’s exactly where the Muskegon Lumberjacks are at heading into a pair of home games at L.C. Walker Arena this weekend.

Despite the 3-1 loss in their most recent game at Waterloo Saturday, the Lumberjacks have some momentum in the way they’re playing and want to build upon it in their back-to-back home games against Eastern Conference rival Central Illinois Friday and Saturday night. Puck drop each night is 7:15 p.m.

“Last weekend we had our best compete level since Christmas,” said Muskegon head coach Mike Hamilton, whose team recorded a 5-4 win at Sioux City Friday. “I thought, because we played the game the right way and worked hard, that we were deserving of at least a split and maybe more.”

Hamilton and the Lumberjacks relished the good competition they faced the previous weekend. They even enjoy the occasional road trip or two.

But after last week’s adventure, where it took them nearly two full days to get to Sioux City because of the weather, they’re happy to be back home and in familiar surroundings.

Speaking of familiar, Muskegon has already faced the Flying Aces twice this season.

The Lumberjacks will be getting even more familiar with them, as they play them four times in the next five weeks, including once on February 21 and once on March 9, both at Central Illinois.

“It’s nice to be back in division play for a bit,” Hamilton said. “We’re excited to be home. I was really happy with our road trip and our compete level because of who our opponents were and that two of the last three weekends were intense with the travel, but it’s a little bit nice to know that’s behind us now and we can settle in and play closer to home. We’re almost done with our play against the Western Conference.”

Hamilton is happy to have some practice time lined up.

The Lumberjacks have four relatively new faces who could use an introduction to the strategies Hamilton and his staff have been employing since training camp.

Muskegon welcomed Ryan Savage to the fold on January 31 in a trade with Omaha. He scored a goal Saturday in his first game with his new club.

Two days prior the Lumberjacks signed forward Andrej Kollar from overseas, and two weeks before that the Lumberjacks acquired defenseman Declan Carlile and forward Max Ellis from Lincoln. That trade happened a day before the Lumberjacks’ three-game weekend with Tri-City and Lincoln.

“Ellis and Carlile were added in the midst of chaos, and Kollar and Savage are very new to the team, so this week we’ll touch up on the basics,” Hamilton said. “Even for the guys who’ve been here the whole time, it’ll be nice to go back to the basics and get a refresher on how we handle certain things.”

Hamilton said that attention to details, no matter how small, could pay big dividends in tight spots and tight games.

Central Illinois comes into the weekend series in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 37 points, 22 points behind the Lumberjacks.

Still, Hamilton expects a tough weekend because the Flying Aces are fighting for their playoff lives.

“They’re right on the edge of the playoffs, so this is a big series for them,” Hamilton added. “For us it’s an opportunity to get back on track and keep things moving forward.”

Muskegon is 2-0 against the Flying Aces so far this season, with a 5-1 road win on November 11 and a 6-1 win at home on January 13.

Central Illinois is led by Tate Singleton, who has 17 goals and 29 points on the season.

Alex Yakovenko is one of the hottest Lumberjacks lately.

The Russian blueliner was named USHL Defenseman of the Week for the third time this season thanks to his big effort over the weekend with a pair of goals, an assist and a +3 rating.