By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – This hockey season has not gone as planned for Connor Wood.
The 19-year-old forward from Bloomfield Hills started his sophomore year at Michigan State University last fall. After redshirting and sitting out his freshman hockey season, he was looking forward to being a regular for the Spartans this winter.
But MSU had several seniors who redshirted last year due to injuries and returned to the lineup this season. That made Wood the odd man out, and he found himself watching a lot of games from the bleachers in his street clothes.
Then came the call from the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
It just so happened that Wood’s roommate on the MSU hockey team was Brock Krygier, the son of first year Lumberjacks coach Todd Krygier. The Lumberjacks were looking for another scorer, and Wood wasn’t doing MSU any good as a spectator.
So he agreed to leave school, come to Muskegon and get the ice time he desperately needed.
So far the experiment has worked out great. Wood has four goals and one assist in 12 games, helping the Lumberjacks post a 7-4 record in their last 11 games.
One of his goals came in Sunday night’s 5-2 victory over Team USA. He also took a stick to the mouth in that game, costing him one of his front teeth and part of another. The worst part is that his parents were sitting next to the glass just a few feet away, and his mother did not enjoy the moment.
“My mom looked white as a ghost,” said Wood, who was down on the ice for several minutes after taking the shot to the teeth.
But the dental mishap hasn’t dampened Wood’s enthusiasm about being back on the ice with a team that needed his services.
“That was my plan, to redshirt last year then go back and be a regular at Michigan State this season,” said Wood, who played midget hockey for nine years in the Detroit Honey Baked program and graduated from Lasser High School. “But those other guys came back for their fifth year and took my spot in the lineup.
“We got to Christmas, I was still not getting in, and so I ended up here in Muskegon. I really like it. It’s been great. I think the team has really turned around from what I understand it was like earlier in the season.”
Wood credits the Lumberjack coaches for helping him shake off the rust and improve his game in the few short weeks he’s been here. He says he feels challenged, and has been pleasantly surprised by the quality of play in the USHL.
“Surprisingly it’s very similar,” said Wood, who is used to working out with older, more experienced players at MSU. “I would say the speed of the game is about at the same level. The big difference is the size and the strength of the players at the college level.”
He also thinks the Lumberjacks have more than enough skill to salvage what started as a so-so season.
“I think the talent is definitely there (in Muskegon),” he said. “We’ve got guys committing to some big-time universities. It’s just a matter of getting into that playoff mentality. We have some challenging weekends coming up. It’s just a matter of learning to consistently play well together.”
More than anything, Wood says he’s grateful to be back on skates and developing his game this season. He may not be wearing the green and white of MSU, but he’s playing for a team that needed his talent and making the best of the opportunity.
“Muskegon gave me the chance to be a hockey player again,” Wood said. “Before I was just sitting in the stands every night. I feel comfortable in the environment, and I wanted a chance to play again. It’s been a long time coming and I’m just running with it.”
The current plan is for Wood to finish the season in Muskegon and return to MSU in the fall. But because he left school he’s technically a collegiate free agent, and could accept a scholarship from any college that might want his services.
He said he’s heard that some college scouts have been watching him, but right now his heart is still in East Lansing, and he’s leaning toward a return to the Spartans.
JACKS TAKE ON THE BEST THIS WEEKEND
The Lumberjacks are currently 18-17-1, good for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. They are only one point behind Green Bay and Cedar Rapids. They trail second place Dubuque by nine points and first-place Indiana by 12.
The Jacks should get a pretty good idea of where they stand this weekend when they play both conference leaders.
On Friday they will visit Waterloo, which has a league-best 29-5-1 record and leads the Western Conference by one point over Omaha.
On Saturday the Lumberjacks return home to host Indiana. Game time is 7:15 p.m.
The bus travel over the next few days will be almost as challenging as the teams the Lumberjacks play this weekend.
“We have to go to Waterloo and back and we need those points,” Muskegon coach Todd Krygier said. “We have to prepare for that. I’ve been told Waterloo is seven or eight hours away.”