By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Muskegon Lumberjacks Coach Todd Krygier will definitely be more comfortable heading into training camp this year.
Last fall Krygier was in a difficult position. He was hired as coach in the summer, after the club was sold and the former management team had already drafted players for the 2013-14 season.
So he was left to mold a team out of players he didn’t choose, and didn’t necessarily play his style of hockey.
Over the course of the season, Krygier and General Manager John Vanbiesbrouck attacked the problem by making numerous personnel changes. By the end of the season they had a roster full of players they liked, and the team was performing well on the ice.
The good news is that 14 players from the Jacks’ final roster last season are on their 2014-15 “protected” player list, which was released Thursday.
The top returnee will be forward Matt Iacopelli, who led the Lumberjacks and the United States Hockey League with 41 goals last season. Iacopelli was recently drafted by the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks and is committed to play college hockey at Western Michigan University.
Also returning are forwards Mason Jobst, Jack Rowe, Matej Paulovic, Cooper Marody, Chase Hatcher, Haralds Egle, Robbie DeMontis and Chris Dodero.
Returning defensemen are Joe Cecconi, Zac Goodrich, Daniel Willett and Christian Wolanin.
Eric Schierhorn, who had established himself as the everyday goalie in the final months of last season, is also back this year.
Three other United States Hockey League veterans are on the Lumberjacks’ “protected” list as well. They are forwards Griffen Molino and Tom Marchin, who were acquired in postseason trades from Sioux Falls and Lincoln, respectively, as well as defenseman Ryan Mantha, who was acquired in the player dispersal draft from the now defunct Indiana Ice.
Mantha was a fourth-round draft pick of the New York Rangers this year. Molino had 8 goals and 31 assists for Sioux Falls last season while Marchin had 6 goals and 12 assists for Lincoln.
The 14 returnees and the three other league veterans are expected in training camp, which begins Aug. 27, and should make the team, according to Krygier. That means the Lumberjacks will have 17 veterans forming the foundation of its 23-man regular season roster.
“It’s huge,” said Krygier, regarding the return of so many veteran players. “I know who these guys are. We knew the type of players we were looking for to fill certain spots. I’m expecting to hit the ground running this season. We have extremely high expectations.”
Rounding out the 27-player “protected” roster are a group of newcomers, including forwards Kevin Dineen, Grant Jozefek, Mike Maiden, Collin Peters and Owen Green; defensemen Mitch Eliot, Max Gottlieb, Bo Hanson, Ryker Killins and David Trinkberger; and goalie Ryan Larkin.
Protected players are generally older players (drafted in previous years) that the team wants to retain the rights to, even if some don’t make the opening day roster.
Several are definitely expected to make the team, including Dineen, Jozefek (who’s committed to play college hockey at Northeastern University), Eliot (committed to Michigan State), Hanson, Killins and Trinkberger.
Eliot was the Lumberjacks’ first overall draft pick this spring.
Some on the protected list will be beaten for roster spots by younger players who have been designated as “affiliates” by the Lumberjacks. Affiliates are generally younger players trying out for the league for the first time. The team has 17 players on the affiliate roster, which was also released Thursday.
Among the more promising “affiliates” are defenseman Andrew Barbeau, who was the Lumberjacks’ second-round pick in this year’s draft, along with forwards Collin Adams and Dante Palecco, who was a first-round pick, according to Krygier.
Palecco had 34 goals and 19 assists last season in major midget hockey.
Affiliates who don’t make the team will return to high school, midget major or lower-level junior hockey. They will remain the property of the Lumberjacks for the season, and could be subject to call-up at any time. Some players on the current “protected” roster will become affiliates if they don’t make the team.
While the Lumberjacks have a total of 44 players on the protected and affiliate lists, only about 25 will be invited to training camp, Krygier said.
That’s because the coach says he has a pretty good idea of who he wants on the team, so there will be no need for a lot of competition. Instead the team can immediately start focusing on preparing for the regular season.
“We decided to get the players we think will be on our team and get to work,” Krygier said.
YANIS NOT RETURNING
The Lumberjacks announced Thursday that defenseman Mark Yanis, who played with the team in 2010-11 and 11-12, has been traded to the Green Bay Gamblers for a draft pick.
Yanis is returning to the league after a stint of playing college hockey at Penn State University.