By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – There’s no doubt that local hockey fans become attached to good players who stick around for awhile.
That was particularly true of Cooper Marody, a talented and likable forward who spent more than a season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks before he was traded last week.
But there’s no reason for anyone to fret too much when the Jacks make a trade, regardless of who leaves town as part of the deal.
That’s because the club, under the direction of General Manager John Vanbiesbrouck, has a knack for making some pretty deft swaps with other USHL teams.
The Lumberjack roster is dotted with players who came via trade over the past two seasons, and are playing major roles on the team this year.
There are defensemen Christian Wolanin and Joseph Cecconi, who came via trade from Green Bay last winter in exchange for Conner Hurley.
This season Wolanin is the Lumberjacks captain and has become one of the best defensemen in the league. He’s having a very good offensive year, with seven goals and eight assists through 23 games.
Cecconi is also a highly regarded defenseman who may be a high pick next summer in the NHL draft, according to Vanbiesbrouck.
Then there’s forward Jack Rowe, who came to the Lumberjacks late last season from Fargo for draft picks. Rowe immediately went on a tear, scoring 10 goals in the final 19 games for Muskegon.
This year Rowe is an alternate team captain who has five goals and six assists, despite missing several weeks of action due to a concussion.
Over the summer the Lumberjacks really struck it big, picking up forward Tom Marchin from the Lincoln Stars and forward Griffen Molino from the Sioux Falls Stampede.
Molino has six goals and 18 assists and leads the team with 24 points. Marchin is tied for the team lead with 13 goals and also has 10 assists.
Playing on a line with Matej Paulovic, they have formed one of the deadliest scoring lines in the league this season.
A few weeks ago the Jacks picked up defenseman Trevor Hamilton from Fargo in exchange for a first round draft pick.
Hamilton is a USHL veteran who went on to play a season of collegiate hockey at Miami of Ohio, before leaving school and returning to the league this season. He has two goals and two assists in only four games for the Lumberjacks.
“He’s going to be really good,” Vanbiesbrouck said about Hamilton.
So how do the Lumberjacks pull off these great deals?
According to Vanbiesbrouck, it’s a matter of scouting and drafting well and building up a stock of high quality younger players on the active roster and affiliate list (players in lower leagues whose rights are owned by the Jacks).
Quite often other teams in the league are trying rebuild with young players and draft picks, and are willing to give up skilled older players in the 18-to-29 age range (like Hamilton, Rowe, Marchin, Molino and Wolanin) to get them.
“If you have a good futures draft, you can bolster your lineup with those good younger players or use them to acquire the guys who have the most success in the league, which are the older players,” Vanbiesbrouck said.
“We’re fortunate that a lot of good players like playing in Muskegon. They like to come here.”
Unfortunately Marody no longer wanted to be in Muskegon, for whatever reason, according to Vanbiesbrouck. He recently told the front office that he wanted a new start elsewhere in the league, so the Jacks quickly accommodated him.
“Cooper’s a great kid and a great teammate,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “It really caught us off guard. It’s hard to find guys like that.”
On the positive side, the Lumberjacks were able to secure forward Will Graber from Sioux Falls for Marody. Graber played two games for the Lumberjacks last weekend, in their back-to-back victories over the Team USA Under-17 squad.
“He has size and speed and a lot of smarts in him,” Vanbiesbrouck said of Graber. “We really try to look at hockey IQ. We believe ultimately that if a player has a high hockey IQ he is going to have success.”
The scary part is that Marody will make his return to Muskegon this weekend, when Sioux Falls comes to town for Friday and Saturday night games. Marody is off to a very strong start for his new team, with three goals and two assists in only two games.
It should make for an interesting weekend at L.C. Walker Arena.
The Lumberjacks have been sizzling hot, winning six of their past seven games, including a 4-0 shutout of Team USA Friday and a 4-2 victory over the Under-17s on Saturday.
The “MPM” line of Marchin, Paulovic and Molino carried the scoring load, combining for seven of the team’s eight goals over the weekend. Marchin notched a three-goal hat trick on Saturday, including two third period goals that broke a 2-2 tie.
Muskegon is now 16-6-1 on the season with 33 points in the standings. They are in second place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind first place Cedar Rapids, which is 18-3-0.
‘Schierhorn returns, then leaves again.
Lumberjack fans were thrilled with Saturday’s return of standout goalie Eric Schierhorn, who missed three games with a minor concussion. He came back in style, making 37 saves and collecting his 13th victory of the season.
Unfortunately he won’t be playing again in a Lumberjacks uniform until after Christmas. Schierhorn and Wolanin have already departed to play for the U.S. Junior Select Team in the World Junior A Challenge tournament in Kindersley, Saskatchewan Dec. 14-20.
Fortunately for Muskegon, backup goalie Michael Latorella recently registered two impressive performances when Schierhorn was injured, including Friday’s shutout victory.
New USHL rival in Flint?
News sources have reported that a Florida manufacturing company has negotiated the purchase of Perani Arena in Flint, and is interested in bringing a USHL franchise to that city in the near future.
Perani Arena, formerly known as the IMA Sports Arena, was home to the old Flint Generals, who carried on a long rivalry with Muskegon teams back in the International Hockey League and United Hockey League eras.
The arena is currently home to a franchise in the North American Hockey League, a lower-tier junior league.
Flint would be the third Michigan franchise in the USHL. The other is Team USA, which currently plays in a small venue in Ann Arbor but is rumored to be moving to a larger arena in Plymouth, Michigan next season.
The establishment of a new team in Flint would require approval by the USHL. Vanbiesbrouck said the Lumberjacks would support an application from Flint to join the league.