By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Matt Iacopelli was three-years-old the first time he tried to ice skate.
He fell and told his mother he would never do it again. He doesn’t remember who was responsible for changing his mind.
It’s a good thing for the Muskegon Lumberjacks that somebody did.
Goals have been scarce for the Lumberjacks in recent weeks. They have only scored eight goals in their last six games. Iacopelli played his first four games without putting the puck in the net.
But the 19-year-old forward has put his mini-slump behind him in dramatic fashion. He has scored at least once in each of the last five games, a hot streak that earned him USHL Player of the Week honors.
He current leads the Lumberjacks with six goals on the season. Connor Hurley is the team point leader with three goals and five assists.
“I knew I would eventually score,” said Iacopelli, 19, a 6-2, 190 pound forward from Woodhaven, Michigan. “I have a lot of confidence.”
Nobody should be surprised about Iacopelli’s scoring ability.
Last year he scored an amazing 57 goals with 29 assists in only 68 games for Belle Tire in midget major hockey. It was that kind of production that convinced Western Michigan University to offer him a hockey scholarship this fall.
He plans on playing the next two seasons in the USHL before moving on to college.
He’s been carrying much of the offensive load for the Lumberjacks, including last Saturday, when he scored a goal in regulation and another in the overtime shootout, helping Muskegon defeat Sioux Falls 3-2 and break a four-game winless streak.
On Sunday he scored twice in a 7-3 loss to Team USA in Ann Arbor.
“I feel like I was just trying to do too much,” Iacopelli said about his early cold streak. “I just decided to go back to the basics, like stopping in front of the net, getting rebounds, shooting the puck and not trying to make the perfect play every time.
“Sometimes you just need to shoot.”
Iacopelli’s scoring touch returned earlier this month in Dubuque, where he was moved to a forward line with teammates Trevor Morbeck and Mason Jobst.
He thinks the new line clicks well, and is partially responsible for his recent output.
“We play off from each other,” Iacopelli said. “We have a good connection. We know where each other are going to be on the ice.”
Some fans are starting to wonder just how much scoring punch the Lumberjacks will have this season, beyond Iacopelli.
But he guarantees the goals will come.
“There’s a great amount of offensive talent on this team,” he said. “It will come out, don’t worry. We just need to start getting more shots on net. Most games we’ve only been scoring three or four goals. With all the talent on our team we should be getting more than that.
“We’re keeping our heads up. Nobody wants to lose. Every game’s a battle. We’ve just got to stick together.”
The Lumberjacks are currently 5-4-1 with 11 points, which leaves them tied for third place in the USHL Eastern Conference with Green Bay. Muskegon trials second-place Dubuque by one point and first-place Team USA by four points.
The Lumberjacks return to action this weekend in Nebraska, where they will play Lincoln on Saturday night and Omaha on Sunday.
They will visit Dubuque next Friday, Nov. 1, before returning home the following night against Cedar Rapids.
Defenseman Sean Lang was traded to the Tri-City Storm in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2014 USHL Phase One Draft.
The Apple Valley, Minn. native played in nine regular season games for Muskegon and recorded four assists.