By Steve Gunn
MUSKEGON – Who knew Griffen Molino and Tom Marchin were going to be this good?
The Muskegon Lumberjacks acquired the two forwards last spring in a pair of transactions that drew little attention.
Their stats from the 2013-14 season were pretty good, but nothing that hinted at breakout performances.
Molino, who grew up in Trenton, Michigan, had eight goals and a very respectable 31 assists for Sioux Falls last season. Marchin, who grew up in Algonac, Michigan, had a more modest 6 goals and 12 assists for Lincoln.
But they both found their “A” games when they arrived in Muskegon.
That was evident again last weekend, when Molino had two goals and two assists in the two victories over Des Moines, while Marchin had two goals and an assist Saturday against Des Moines and a goal Sunday against Team USA.
Molino leads the team with 60 points, which is good for a tie for fourth in the league scoring race. Youngstown’s Kyle Connor is first with 69 points.
Last weekend Molino set a Lumberjacks single-season record by recording his 44th assist of the season, which is also tied for the league lead with Youngstown’s Josh Melnick.
The previous team record was set by Ryan Misiak in 2010-11.
Molino has also scored 16 goals, double his total from last season.
Marchin’s numbers also increased dramatically this season. He’s tied with Matheson Iacopelli for the team lead in goals with 23, more than tripling his total from last season, and has 22 assists.
He also has a remarkable plus/minus rating of +26, easily the best on the team.
Molino and Marchin have spent most of the season on the productive “MPM Line” with second-year Lumberjack Matej Paulovic, who has 16 goals and 31 assists.
The three players have combined for 151 points through 56 games, which is nearly one-third of the team’s total of 456 points this season.
What the team was thinking
So what did the Lumberjacks know when they traded for Molino and Marchin last year?
“They’re both Michigan kids, they grew up playing youth hockey we’re familiar with,” said Lumberjacks Coach Todd Krygier.
“We knew Molino was a fast skater with great skills and we felt he had a huge upside. We knew Marchin was a big, strong forward who was used in a different role in Lincoln. We put him in a more offensive role as a power forward.
“We were very optimistic when we got them. We thought they were a steal for us.”
Molino is a great skater with a lot of speed who employs a lot of intelligence on the ice, according to Krygier.
“With his speed he creates a lot,” Krygier said about Molino.”And he plays on a line that has good chemistry. When you get a line with chemistry production just seems to happen. Those three move the puck well, play smart and hard, take the puck to the net and create a lot of opportunities.”
Marchin was actually a fourth-line forward last year in Lincoln, according to Krygier, and apparently had the idea that he was supposed to use his size as a team enforcer.
“He thought he was brought in to be a fighter for us, and I told him he’s not fighting, he’s coming here to play hockey,” Krygier said. “He has worked real hard on his game.”
Marchin’s very high plus-minus rating is a result of strong, dedicated play on both ends of the ice, the coach said.
“He’s very responsible defensively,” Krygier said. “He’s not a big risk taker. He plays his position well, blocks shots and gets the puck out of the zone. A good plus/minus starts with good defensive play.
“Marchin gets the puck out of the zone, Molino uses his speed and they end up scoring goals.”
The Lumberjacks may be peaking at the perfect time.
They have won five straight games, including three in a row last weekend – 5-1 and 4-1 over Des Moines on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and 3-2 over Team USA’s elite Under-18 squad on Sunday.
Friday’s win set a new franchise record for wins in a season (32) and sealed up a postseason playoff berth for the Jacks.
Muskegon is now 34-18-4 on the season, good for 72 points in the Eastern Conference. They are one point ahead of fourth-place Dubuque, two points behind second-place Cedar Rapids and seven points behind first-place Youngstown.
The Jacks have four games remaining in the regular season, and they’re all important. A first- or second-place finish will earn them home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, which begin April 17.
Each playoff series has a 3-of-5 game format, which means home ice could make a big difference.