By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks are counting on a lot of scoring this season from their talented group of nine veteran forwards.

So far they’ve met expectations, with 11 of the team’s 15 goals coming from players with prior United States Hockey League experience.

David Keefer

David Keefer

That production helped the team open the season with three straight victories last weekend – 5-2 against the Team USA Under-17 squad on Friday, 4-3 over Madison at home on Saturday, and 6-4 against the Team USA Under-18 team on Sunday.

But one young newcomer – David Keefer – is keeping pace with the older players and quickly making a name for himself.

Keefer made a huge impression on Lumberjacks fans by scoring two goals in the home opener on Saturday – including the game winner midway through third period – then added another goal on Sunday.

That leaves the 16 year-old Keefer tied with 20-year-old Matt Iacopelli (last year’s league scoring champion) for the team lead with three goals apiece.

Keefer says it was “unbelievable – a great feeling” when he scored the game winner Saturday night. But he probably wasn’t as excited as his parents and grandparents, who made the trip from the other side of the state to attend the game.

“It was real nice,” Keefer said. “They were real excited. They were going crazy.”

Keefer came to the Lumberjacks with a scoring resume.

He broke into midget minors with the Compuware Bantam team in 2011 and immediately lit up the scoreboard, tallying 14 goals and 25 assists in only 31 games.

Keefer’s next big season came in 2013-14, when he skated for the Honeybaked Under-16 midget major squad. He collected 10 goals and 11 assists in only 18 games.

He moved up to the Under-18 squad later in the season and scored three goals with four assists in only eight games.

His obvious skills were enough to attract the attention of the Michigan State University hockey program. The Spartans have already offered Keefer a scholarship when he graduates from high school in 2016.

“I’ve always loved the school, so I picked them,” Keefer said. “My brother goes there, and we only live about 30 minutes away from the campus.”

Keefer says USHL hockey is far more fast and physical than midgets, and he’s surprised that he’s adjusted so well so early.

“It’s definitely more difficult,” said Keefer, a native of Brighton, Michigan. “It’s harder to make plays and everybody is a lot faster. You’ve got to make plays a lot quicker.

“I really thought it would take me more time to get used to things. I think playing the preseason games definitely helped.”

He says having a lot of older teammates has also helped him find a comfort zone.

“It helps knowing I have all these great guys on my side,” Keefer said. “They’re great leaders. We have a lot of really good players on this team. I think we’re going to have a pretty solid year.”

Correct attendance figure

There was a tabulation problem at L.C. Walker Arena last Saturday night at the Lumberjacks’ home opener.

The club announced a game attendance figure of 1,337, which is low by any standard (the team drew an average of more than 2,100 fans per game last season), but particularly tiny for the first game of the season.

The arena certainly looked like it had a lot more people in it.

As it turns out, that was the case. On Monday the Lumberjacks announced that there had been some sort of math error, and the real attendance at the opener was 2,115, which made a lot more sense.

Early road trip has Lumberjacks logging the miles

The fans who came out for the home opener are lucky they did, for two reasons.

The first is that the Lumberjacks put on a good show and won 4-3 over Madison. The second is that they won’t be seeing the Jacks again for several weeks, unless they’re willing to do some serious driving.

The Lumberjacks began a five-game road stand last Sunday in Ann Arbor. That ties for the second longest road swing the team will make in the 2014-15 season.

Because the games are spread out this time of year – and mostly on the weekends – the Lumberjacks will not play in Muskegon again until Saturday Oct. 18 against Chicago. That means three full weeks will pass between the opener and second home game.

This weekend the Jacks have Friday and Saturday night dates in Cedar Rapids, and the following weekend will play Friday and Saturday night in Lincoln.

That’s a lot of travel to open the season, particularly when you add in last weekend’s crazy shuffle between Ann Arbor on Friday night, a home game on Saturday night, then back to Ann Arbor for a Sunday matinee game.

Following the current road trip, the schedule is pretty balanced for the next four months.

The Lumberjacks will end October with four straight home games, then will have four at home and six on the road in November.

The heaviest concentration of home games will be in December and January. The Lumberjacks will have seven home games in December and only one road game. In January there will be seven home games and three away.

But they will pay for those midseason home dates by ending the campaign almost exclusively on the road.

Muskegon will play seven games on the road next March and only two at home. The Lumberjacks will wrap up their regular season in April with three of four games on the road.