By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – The 2014-15 season started out great for the Muskegon Lumberjacks, and Mason Jobst was enjoying every minute of it.

He had spent the previous three seasons in Muskegon dealing with a series of injuries, a constantly revolving door of teammates, three different coaches, and a lot of losses on the ice.

Mason Jobst

Mason Jobst

But suddenly he was healthy and the captain of a very good team that seemed destined to compete for its first United States Hockey League title. And he had finally landed a college hockey scholarship, after three long seasons of waiting, working and hoping.

Then his season came to a standstill when he took an awkward hit from an opponent during a home game in October.

“My left shoulder (was dislocated) and stayed that way for a little bit,” said Jobst, 20, who underwent surgery for the injury Nov. 5. “I eventually got it back in, but there was a lot of pain, and I knew it would take a while to take care of.”

Shoulder injuries are nothing new for Jobst (pronounced Yobst). He’s been getting “subluxations” of both shoulders throughout his four seasons in the USHL. That means his shoulders keep popping in and out of their sockets, due to a torn labrum condition.

He’s had three shoulder surgeries in the past two years, which kept him from developing his skills as quickly as he would have liked.

“When I first came into the league I kept popping both shoulders out,” he said. “I’ve probably popped both of them out 100 times. I have no idea why I have this problem. I think it has something to do with my posture. But every summer, when you’re supposed to work out and get strong, I’ve been having surgeries.

“I’ve been playing with lots of braces and different things, trying to figure out what would work, and it was super restricting. I haven’t played a game in Muskegon since my first year without having shoulder braces that kept me from playing up to full strength.”

Days after the latest injury, Lumberjacks Coach Todd Krygier said he had to assume that Jobst would be out for the rest of the season.

But Jobst has other plans, because he has unfinished business in Muskegon.

He returned from his home in Speedway, Indiana this week to begin classes at Muskegon Community College and ease into a physical rehabilitation program. He’ll be on hand in street clothes Friday and Saturday when the Lumberjacks host the Madison Capitols at 7:15 p.m each night.

His goal is to help the team any way he can for the next few months, work hard during rehab, and return to the ice on time for the playoffs in April.

“I have lots of people in my ear telling me to just play it safe and not try to come back this year, but I’m a competitor, and to just say ‘I’m done’ is impossible for me,” said Jobst, whose USHL eligibility runs out after this season. “This is it. This is my last shot. I want to win a championship here.”

Tough times

Jobst certainly deserves the opportunity to get back on the ice and wrap up his USHL career on his own terms.

He’s been a loyal Lumberjack through good times and bad, and there has been plenty of bad.

He was drafted by the Lumberjacks in the spring of 2011. At the time he was a teen, playing for the midget Indiana Junior Ice, and assuming he would eventually play for the USHL’s Indiana Ice. But he was summoned to Muskegon in the middle of the 2011-12 season at the age of 17, and was invited to stay for the rest of the season after playing 10 games.

He found himself thrust into a chaotic situation.

The Lumberjacks were not good that season, finishing last in the Eastern Conference with a 17-35-8 record. That led to the midseason firing of Coach Kevin Patrick. The team was better in 2012-13, claiming the last spot in the playoffs, but was swept in the first round by Dubuque. Coach Jim McKenzie was fired at the end of the season and the team was sold in the offseason.

Jobst had shoulder surgery in the summer of 2013, and was forced to miss the first month of the following season. He returned to a team that was still losing more than it won, as the new management team sorted through the roster and searched for players that fit its style.

To make the situation even more frustrating, Jobst was playing his third year in the league without landing a college scholarship. He was a respected leader and standout on the ice, dishing out a boatload of assists and specializing in penalty killing. Yet his teammates were committing to various colleges and universities, while no offers were coming his way.

“I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, but I just told myself to keep my head down and keep working and things will work out,” Jobst said.

Jobst also watched a lot of teammates come and go during his time in Muskegon, and they didn’t always leave on the happiest of terms, due to disciplinary issues.

Jobst said there was a lot of “smoking and boozing” among the underage players, and he also recalls some juvenile mailbox-bashing.

“A lot of guys got in trouble in my early days in Muskegon,” said Jobst, who served as a team co-captain in 2013-14 and was the sole captain this season before his injury. “There were a lot of issues back in the day. I wish I could go back and look at all the old rosters and see how many kids I played with.

“There were definitely some kids who weren’t ready. They needed another year back home.”

Finally a scholarship

The situation in Muskegon started to improve in 2013-14.

One noticeable change, according to Jobst, was the behavior of the new players who started coming to town. He said the new regime that took over last season, led by Krygier and General Manager John Vanbiesbrouck, worked hard to get rid of bad apples and fill the roster with good kids.

“It’s just different now,” Jobst said. “Coach Krygier treats us like men. He lets us make our own decisions. We have his trust, and everyone does a good job of staying out of trouble and keeping that trust and respect.”

Jobst ended up having a terrific year on the ice, chalking up 10 goals and 35 assists in 49 games. Many of those assists came while he was playing on a line with teammate Matheson Iacopelli, who ran away with the USHL scoring title with 51 goals.

Victories also became more common toward the end of 2013-14. The Lumberjacks were stuck far outside the playoff picture for most of the season, then got hot at the end and came within one victory of sneaking in.

“We weren’t winning when I came here, which sucked, because I hate losing,” Jobst said. “Last year was a lot of fun. We had a really tight group of guys and it really hurt when we missed the playoffs by one point.”

To top it all off, Jobst finally accepted a hockey scholarship from Ohio State University in the opening weeks of the 2014-15 season, ending his long, frustrating wait.

“It was crazy – I was all smiles,” said Jobst, who will enroll at OSU this fall.

Krygier thinks colleges were worried about his injuries and small 5-7, 160-pound frame.

“Finally a school wised up and realized it really doesn’t matter, because he plays a lot bigger than what he is,” the coach said.

Then came the latest injury, which rudely interrupted the season he’d been waiting for.

“It was definitely depressing,” Jobst said. “It was a very hard pill to swallow that I was going to have to leave this group of guys and this coaching staff. We had all been talking all summer about how this was going to be our year for sure. To have to leave so abruptly was very tough.”

The power of positive thinking

Amazingly, Jobst has managed to keep a positive attitude, despite all the problems he encountered throughout his Lumberjack years.

While many young players would have requested a trade (and a few actually did), Jobst said he has learned a lot and matured during his time in Muskegon.

“Growing up I was taught to face adversity and deal with it, not turn and quit on your team,” Jobst said. “You have to fight through, and I’m happy I did.”

Jobst also said he has no regrets about spending his teen years in such a structured, competitive environment, while other guys his age were getting girlfriends, hanging out with buddies and generally having a good time.

“I never went to prom – I missed all of my proms – but if you really love the game it’s not really a sacrifice,” Jobst said. “I had to uproot from my family and friends and hometown and head off to Michigan, but it was definitely the right decision.

“It’s very disciplined (in the USHL). It made me very responsible and taught me to be on time. Being away from your family at a young age starts to teach you how to live on your own.”

The bottom line is that Jobst has made a major physical and emotional investment in the Lumberjacks, and he wants to make it pay off with a Clark Cup championship in the spring.

That’s why he’s back and embarking on a rehabilitation effort while he attends school. He knows it will be hard to sit and watch the games for several months, doing whatever he can to help from an off-ice perspective.

“When I sat down with Mr. Vanbiesbrouck, I  told him I wanted to be there and support and be part of the team,” he said. “I’ll figure something out. I could do video our keep stats, or just try to be a positive voice in the locker room.”

But before it’s over he’s determined to play a few more games, hopefully when the victories will matter the most.

“There’s a chance,” Jobst said. “Usually they say there is a six-month recovery time, but I had this surgery done the last two summers on both shoulders, and I was recovered by the fourth month both times. Early April will be five months this time, and we still have four regular season games left in April, then the playoffs.”

Krygier says Jobst has a long way to go before returning to action, but he’s not willing to bet against him.

“If we could get him back for the playoff run that would be the ultimate,” he said. “I don’t know how realistic it is. I haven’t spoken to the doctors. He’s got to rehab, strenghten the shoulder, get in shape and get cleared by a doctor. That’s a lot. But if anybody can do it, he can.”