By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
It’s make-or-break time for the Jekyll-and-Hyde Muskegon Lumberjacks.
All season long the team has been up and down, looking great some nights while beating top teams like Indiana or the Team USA under-18 squad, and looking horrible while losing to sub-par opponents like Fargo or Youngstown.
The inconsistency never got the best of Muskegon coach Todd Krygier. He reminded everyone that his team is young and inexperienced, and said he would care more about wins and losses when playoff time rolled around.
That time has just about arrived, but there’s no guarantee the Lumberjacks will make the playoffs.
They are currently 19-18-4, good for 42 points and fifth place in the United States Hockey League’s Eastern Conference. They are one point behind fourth-place Green Bay and five points behind third-place Cedar Rapids. But they are also just three points ahead of Chicago.
The Lumberjacks have 19 games remaining to overtake at least one of the teams ahead of them. The top four teams in each conference make the Clark Cup playoffs, and at the moment the Jacks are on the outside looking in, even if it’s just by a point.
The good news is that the rest of the schedule looks promising for Muskegon as it battles for a spot in the postseason party.
Twelve of their last 19 games are against teams with fewer points and less hope of making the playoffs. Three of those games are right around the corner – Friday in Youngstown against the last-place Phantoms, Friday Feb. 14 at home against Youngstown, and the following night at home against Chicago.
Of the seven games remaining against teams with better records, two are against the Indiana Ice, a first-place team they’ve played tough all year while splitting six games. Muskegon probably played one of its best games of the season Saturday in a 2-1 win over Indiana.
The Jacks also have a game remaining against the very tough Team USA under-18 squad, which they’ve beaten twice this year. They will play the two teams they’re chasing in the standings – Green Bay and Cedar Rapids – one more time apiece.
Meanwhile, 11 of their final games are on home ice, which is a bit of a reward for battling through a grueling eight-game road trip in January. The Lumberjacks are 11-7-1 at home and 8-11-3 on the road.
LUMBERJACKS PICK UP A FORWARD FROM FARGO
The Lumberjacks are obviously aware that they’re in a fight for the playoffs, which is why they keep making moves to improve their roster.
They have added six quality players since December – Connor Wood, Chase Hatcher, Matej Paulovic, Daniel Willett, Christian Wolanin and Joseph Cecconi – who have played major roles in the club’s recent improvement.
Today they announced they have acquired forward Jack Roe from Fargo. Roe is a third-year USHL player, having spent two and a half seasons with Cedar Rapids before being traded to Fargo earlier this season. He brings a bit of offensive firepower with 10 goals and six assists on the season.
Roe will join the Lumberjacks Friday in Youngstown.
The Lumberjacks also announced that they have traded the rights to defenseman Luc Snuggerud and forward Steven Spinner to powerful Omaha in exchange for a first-round draft pick next season.
Snuggerud and Spinner are very talented high school teammates from Minnesota who spent three games with the Lumberjacks in early November and clearly made them better, but chose to go home after that short stretch to finish their high school season.
There is no word on whether the two will join Omaha this season when the high school season wraps up.