By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks may have to get by without Eric Schierhorn for one more weekend, but they can definitely breathe easier about the long-term health of their star goalie.

Schierhorn did not play last weekend after complaining to team officials about concussion-lime symptoms, according to Lumberjacks Coach Todd Krygier. He was checked out and diagnosed with a minor concussion.

Apparently Schierhorn took a hit the previous weekend in Waterloo and did not complain of any physical issues, but that changed a few days later.

“After we won in Dubuque (last Wednesday) he said his head started to bother him,” Krygier said. “We wanted to be cautious and make sure his health was okay. You don’t mess with concussions.”

The Lumberjacks struggled last Friday in Schierhorn’s absence, losing by an ugly 8-0 score at home against Youngstown. Jacob Gwillum, one of the team’s backup goalies, was lit up in the loss.

But the Jacks responded positively the following night in Youngstown, battling to a 2-2 tie, then winning in an overtime shootout 3-2.

Michael Latorella, the other backup netminder, played a great game, turning away 40 of 42 shots to preserve the victory.

The Lumberjacks improved to 14-6-1 on the season, good for second place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference standings.

On Wednesday afternoon Krygier said he was not sure if Schierhorn was ready to participate in a team practice, let along play this weekend, when the Lumberjacks host Team USA on Friday and Saturday night.

“I’m not sure what his status is, but if he doesn’t practice (Wednesday) he’s unlikely for the weekend,” Krygier said. “But I don’t think he would be out any longer than this weekend.”

In the meantime Krygier said he’s comfortable going with Gwillum or Latorella for the games against Team USA, if necessary.

“I’m satisfied,” the coach said. “Jacob did not have a good game against Youngstown Friday – there’s no sugar-coating that – but he works hard and we believe he’s a good goaltender. I’ve played with lots of winning goaltenders in the NHL, and when a lot of them were first called up their first few games did not go well. It just takes time.

“Latorella came in Saturday night and played extremely well. I’m confident in both of them. They are in different stages of development.”

The new captain

The Lumberjacks have a lot of natural leaders on their roster.

That’s why they were comfortable naming defenseman Christian Wolanin as the new team captain following the season-ending injury in October to former captain Mason Jobst.

“Christian has been a leader,” Krygier said. “If we would have had two captains at the start of the season we would have given one of the C’s to him.

“It was no surprise to anyone on the team that we have him wearing the C. He does an absolutely fantastic job of leading on and off the ice.”

Wolanin was far more introverted when he came to Muskegon last season in a trade with Green Bay, according to Krygier.

“His development absolutely skyrocketed when he left Green Bay,” Krygier said. “He was timid and cautious when he first came here, but he’s really taken over since then.”

Wolanin has been on an offensive tear recently. He scored both of the Lumberjacks’ regulation goals in Saturday night’s victory in Youngstown, then scored again in the shootout to help secure the victory.

He now has seven goals and eight assists, which are pretty healthy totals at this point in the season, particularly for a defenseman.

“I honestly believe he’s one of the top defensemen in the league,” Krygier said. “I believe he could be an NHL draft pick next year.”

Wolanin (and maybe Schierhorn) leaving for tournament

Wolanin will be leaving the Lumberjacks Sunday to play for the U.S. Junior Select Team in the World Junior A Challenge tournament in Kindersley, Saskatchewan Dec. 14-20.

Schierhorn could still be chosen for the team as well, according to Krygier.

“It’s an honor to be chosen out of all the great players in the USHL to represent the United States, and I’m humbled to be getting a chance to wear the USA jersey for the first time in my young hockey career,” said Wolanin.  “I’m definitely going to make the most of this opportunity as we have a great team assembled of quality USHL talent that can hopefully bring home another gold medal.”

Under the guidance of Head Coach Jay Varady (Sioux City), along with Assistant Coaches Brian Kaufman (Omaha) and Keith Paulsen (Madison), the U.S. Junior Select Team, which is usually comprised of entirely USHL players, looks to defend their back-to-back gold medals in the annual event going up against five other teams – Canada East, Canada West, Switzerland, Russia, and Denmark.

The United States has claimed the gold in five of the last six World Junior A Challenges.