By Dave Hart
MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks managed to bounce back from their disappointing two home losses against the Youngstown Phantoms on Oct. 14-15 with a pair of exciting road wins last weekend against the Bloomington Thunder and the Waterloo Black Hawks.
The Lumberjacks blanked the Thunder 5-0 on Friday night at the U.S. Cellular Arena in Bloomington, Illinois, then picked up 4-3 overtime shootout victory over a solid Black Hawks squad on Saturday at Young Arena in Waterloo, Iowa.
Muskegon has continued to have most of its success on the road, compiling a 5-1 record away from the L.C. Walker Arena.
The Jacks are currently 6-3 on the season, good for 12 points and a second-place tie with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL’s Eastern Conference standings. They are six points behind the first-place Chicago Steel, who are off to a red hot 9-0 start on the season.
Muskegon will return home next weekend with a great opportunity to improve on its home record. The Jacks will host the Sioux Falls Stampede on Friday and Saturday night in a rematch of the 2015 Clark Cup finals.
Muskegon’s leading scorer, Colin Adams, was the hero for the Lumberjacks over the weekend.
Adams scored one goal, which turn out to be the game-winner, and notched an assist on Friday night against Bloomington. He continued his success on Saturday in Waterloo with a goal in regulation, followed by the lone goal scored by either team in the shootout, to propel the Jacks to victory.
Adams has had a lot of success in overtime shootouts, scoring on five of seven chances last season.
“I skated down the left side of the ice and then drove to the right and snapped the puck low on the goalies’ glove side,” said Adams, describing his shootout goal on Saturday. “It was a great weekend for us, especially after our bad performance at home last week. It is good to see that the guys are battling.”
When asked about the Lumberjacks success on the road, Adams gives credit to Coach John LaFontaine and his staff.
“Coach lets us know that it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “He tries to keep us calm and tells us to play good defense and then the offense will come.”
LaFontaine was pleased with his player’s effort last weekend on the road.
“The guys came together last weekend,” he said. “We knew that we were a better team than we showed last week.
“We play solid defensively in Bloomington, and in Waterloo the team got better throughout the game. Waterloo is a very tough place to play, it’s a fun and loud atmosphere.”
Adams leads the Lumberjacks with six goals and five assists for a total of 11 points in nine contests.
Russian star gone for five games
One Lumberjack who is starting to heat up is forward Andrei Svechnikov.
Svechnikov, a 16-year old rookie out of Barnaul, Russia, now has three goals and six assists on the season after a slow start offensively.
One of his three goals, which came on Friday night against Bloomington, was enthusiastically described as a “pretty goal” by Lumberjacks play-by-play radio broadcaster Scott Bradford.
According to Coach LaFontaine, Svechnikov drove to the net on the right side of the ice and was cut off by a defender. He quickly spun around in one motion and put the puck inside the net on the far side.
That was just a demonstration of what the talented young forward is capable of.
“Svechnikov has a lot of future potential,” LaFontaine said. “His hands, skating, and hockey IQ are way above his age. He is certainly not missing a beat. When he skates he takes smooth strides. He has a quick release on his shot and can score from anywhere on the ice.”
The Lumberjacks have a unique situation with Svechnikov. Unlike other European players who have been with the team in recent seasons, he speaks almost no English, which makes communication with his coaches and teammates challenging.
“It was certainly tough at first,” LaFontaine said. “He has made strides to understand more and his teammates have made the time to talk ‘hockey talk’ to help him.
“Coaches also use flash cards to get him to understand what we want him to know on a particular aspect of the game. It has been neat to see his improvement.”
The bad news for the Jacks is that Svechnikov will miss the next five games, starting this weekend, to play in the World Under-17 tournament in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
“It’s a good thing we are healthy right now, but he won’t be easy to replace,” LaFontaine said. “We have some depth up front and (other players) will get a chance to be tested.”
The conference race
The Chicago Steel has opened their season with a 9-0 record for a league-leading 18 points in the standing. The Lumberjacks and Green Bay Gamblers are six points behind the Steel for a second-place tie with 12 points each.
The Dubuque Fighting Saints and Youngstown Phantoms hold a tie for the fourth and final playoff spot with 10 points apiece.
The Madison Capitols (six points), Bloomington Thunder (six points), Team USA (five points) and Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (one point) round out the bottom half of the USHL’s Eastern Conference.
This weekend’s opponent, the Sioux Falls Stampede, is off to a rough start with a 3-5-1 record. The team is in last place in the Western Conference.
The Stampede is led by the USHL’s leading scorer, Austin Albrecht, who has four goals and 12 assists in nine games.