By Steve Gunn
MUSKEGON – Corey Schueneman was a Muskegon Lumberjack in the past, for a grand total of two games.
But he was frustrated by the lack of team success in Des Moines.
The Buccaneers failed to make the playoffs in his two-plus seasons there, and Schueneman was in danger of leaving the USHL without experiencing the postseason.
Then he learned in March that he’d been traded back to Muskegon, giving him one more shot at the playoffs before leaving the league and playing at Western Michigan University this fall.
The situation has worked out even better than he could have imagined.
The Lumberjacks have roared through the postseason, beating regular season league champion Youngstown three games to one in the first round, then disposing of Dubuque in the Eastern Conference finals in five games.
Now they’re headed for the Clark Cup finals for the first time in the team’s five-year history, against Eastern Conference champion Sioux Falls.
Games 1 and 2 will be Saturday and Sunday, respectively, at L.C. Walker Arena, at 7:15 p.m. both nights.
Schueneman has played a very big role in the playoff run, leading the Jacks in scoring through nine playoff games with 10 points (four goals, six assists).
“It’s very exciting,” said Scheuneman, 19, who grew up in Milford, Michigan. “Ever since March, I’ve noticed how well we match up against other teams. Me and everyone else on the team have been thinking that we could do some damage in the playoffs.”
Schueneman was drafted by Muskegon in 2011, and played one game for the Jacks in 2011-12 before going back to midget major hockey.
He played another game for Muskegon in 2012-13, before being shipped to the lower-level North American Hockey League, then traded to Des Moines a few months later.
Schueneman quickly developed into a quality defenseman, particularly from an offensive perspective. He led all league defensemen in scoring this season with 16 goals and 30 assists.
But the playoffs were not happening in Des Moines for a third straight season, and Schueneman was relieved to learn about the trade back to Muskegon
“I was surprised at first, but happy to play on a better team,” Schueneman said. “My coach in Des Moines said (the Lumberjacks) were definitely going to the playoffs, and I already knew they were a good team. I was excited to finally be playing in the playoffs.”
Schueneman’s biggest playoff contribution came in the third period of Game 1 against Dubuque, when the Lumberjacks trailed by a goal and time was running out. He scored two goals down the stretch to propel the Jacks to a critical 4-2 victory.
He also scored the game-winning goal in the series-clinching victory against Youngstown in the first round.
“I’ve gotten some fortunate bounces,” said Schueneman, who is always a threat to score with a powerful shot that can find the mark from the point. “Any way I can help the team, I’m going to try to help.
“I love this atmosphere, playing in front of more people and high energy crowds. I’m really looking forward to the last series.”
A lot of fans had given up hope of the Lumberjacks making the finals last Saturday, when they lost 6-0 on home ice, then had to bus back to Dubuque for a decisive Game 5.
But Schueneman said the team never lost faith, which they demonstrated with Tuesday’s 4-3 victory to clinch the Eastern Conference title.
“We knew we didn’t play a good game, but we also knew we had a lot more in the tank,” Schueneman said. “How we regrouped and came back epitomized what and who we are as a team.”
Two familiar faces playing for Sioux Falls
Two players on the Sioux Falls roster will be very familiar to Muskegon fans this weekend.
Forward Cooper Marody played for the Lumberjacks for most of 2013-14 and the first part of this season, before being traded to Sioux Falls last October for forward Will Graber.
Defenseman Chaz Switzer, the son of popular former Muskegon Mohawks player Erle Switzer, played for the Jacks in 2013-14, before being traded to Sioux Falls last summer for high scoring forward Griffen Molino.
They’ve both made their mark in different ways in Sioux Falls.
Marody has had a great season, tying for 11th in the league scoring race with 58 points (22 goals, 36 assists). He collected 20 of those goals and 29 assists after the trade.
Lumberjacks Coach Todd Krygier is quick to point out that Marody requested the trade, and the team simply accommodated him.
“Everybody forgets that Cooper Marody would not be in this league if I had not picked him up when Green Bay released him (in early 2013-14),” Krygier said. “Then we played the heck out of him when he was developing, then he decided he needed a change of scenery.
“We try to put the needs of kids before our own, sometimes to our own detriment. We want guys who want to be here, and we try to put other guys in different situations where they can be successful. We’re fans of the game as much as we are competitors.”
Switzer, known as a bit of a scrapper, easily led Sioux Falls with 144 penalty minutes in the regular season. He’s had several fights with Muskegon’s Keegan Ward this season, and it will be interesting to see how they get along in the finals.
Odds and ends
Both games this weekend will start at 7:15 p.m. The Lumberjacks originally indicated a 6:15 start time for the Sunday game, but later corrected that.
It may seem odd that the Lumberjacks, who were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, have the home ice advantage in the finals. It’s because Sioux Falls was the fourth seed in the Western Conference and had fewer points in the standings than the Lumberjacks.
This will be the first time a Muskegon team has been in a league championship hockey series since 2009, when the pro Muskegon Lumberjacks made the International Hockey League’s Turner Cup finals and lost to Fort Wayne four games to one.
The last league title for a Muskegon team came in 2004-05, when the Muskegon Fury won the Colonial Cup. That was the second year in a row the team won the cup.