By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks are off to a great start this season.
But they’re about to face their biggest test to date, following serious injuries to three key forwards.
The worst news involves Lumberjacks forward and captain Mason Jobst, who was lost for the season with a right shoulder injury he suffered in last Wednesday’s home game against Team USA.
Lost for the next several weeks are high-scoring forwards Jack Rowe, who suffered a concussion, and Cooper Marody, who sustained a hip injury
“(The injuries) are just a reality we have to deal with,” Lumberjacks Coach Todd Krygier told Local Sports Journal. “There’s nothing we can do about it but pull together.”
Jobst, a fourth-year Lumberjack, has returned home to have shoulder surgery, according to Krygier. It’s the same injury that kept him sidelined for the first few weeks of the 2013-14 season.
There could be a chance that Jobst could return if the Lumberjacks made the playoffs, but Krygier isn’t counting on it.
Jobst is in his final season of eligibility in the United States Hockey League. He recently made a commitment to study and play hockey at Ohio State University, where he will enroll next fall.
Jobst had two goals and five assists in 11 games this season.
“I have no expectations (of a comeback),” Krygier said. “I just want Mason to get well and go into college a year from now healthy. We lost our captain and one of our top players. It affects us on the ice and in the locker room. Everyone knows how fond I am of Mason.
“It’s a huge blow for us. But at the same time, it creates opportunities for some other players. We have great guys with great character.”
Marody’s injury came during a team practice Monday. He will be out at least 10-14 days, according to Krygier. He has two goals and seven assists in 12 games.
Rowe suffered his concussion in Saturday’s game in Youngstown and will probably be out several weeks, Krygier said. He has four goals and five assists in 12 games.
The Lumberjacks are 8-4-0, good for 16 points and second place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. They are two points behind Cedar Rapids in the standings.
The Jacks have won three of their last four games. They lost to the Team USA Under-18 squad 4-1 at home last Wednesday, then won 3-1 on Saturday in Youngstown.
Muskegon will travel to Kearney, Nebraska this weekend for Friday and Saturday games against the Tri City Storm, who are 6-3-2 and in third place in the Western Conference.
The Lumberjacks will return home Nov. 15 against Bloomington.
‘A real good team effort’
While Krygier was understandably upset by the injuries to three key forwards, he said he was impressed by his team’s ability to bounce back last week following Wednesday’s loss to Team USA.
The Lumberjacks rallied with an exciting 3-1 victory Saturday in Youngstown. The game was tied 1-1 after two periods, before Griffen Molino and Matej Paulovic scored to give Muskegon the victory.
Matheson Iacopelli had the first goal for the Lumberjacks.
“We got a big win in Youngstown,” Krygier said. “They are an excellent hockey team. It was a really good hockey game. We went ahead on a shorthanded goal. Our guys played great team defense, kept working and stuck together.
“It was a real good team effort.”
The Cedar Rapids challenge
For most of the young season, Lumberjacks fans were accustomed to looking at the standings and seeing their team in first place.
Part of the reason is that the Jacks have played well. But they also played more games than other teams in the first few weeks, giving them an opportunity to gain more points in the standings.
Last week they were overtaken by the Cedar Rapids Roughriders, who are 9-1-0 so far this season and showing no signs of slowing down.
The Lumberjacks got a taste of how good the Roughriders can be when they lost two games in Cedar Rapids Oct. 3-4 by scores of 4-3 and 6-0.
Muskegon will play Cedar Rapids twice more in the regular season, at home on Feb. 27-28.
“They are an excellent team,” Krygier said of Cedar Rapids. “They beat us twice in their building, but they still have to come back to our building. I already have them circled (on the schedule). We’ve got to be prepared and find a way to split with them this season.”
While the coach desperately wants to beat Cedar Rapids, he can’t help but respect Roughrider Coach Mark Carlson, who recently won his 500th game as a USHL coach.
Carlson is in his 16th USHL season He is just the fifth coach in league history to reach the 500-win mark, joining P.K. O’Handley (550), Mike Hastings (529), Dave Siciliano (522), and Bob Ferguson (517), according to USHL.com.