By Dave Hart

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks have already experienced some highs and lows just seven games into the 2016-17 season.LSJ Logo incert

After losing on opening night against the Team USA Under-17 squad, the Jacks won four straight contests, including three on the road. jacks-transparent

Two of the road wins were in Cedar Rapids, where Muskegon has struggled since joining the United States Hockey League in 2010.

But the winning streak came to an abrupt halt last weekend at the L.C. Walker Arena, where Muskegon dropped a pair of games to the Youngstown Phantoms, 3-1 on Friday and 7-4 on Saturday.

Thus far there seems to be a pattern – the Jacks have played well against struggling teams, and struggled against opponents that are doing better.

The Lumberjacks have defeated the Team USA Under-18 squad, the Bloomington Thunder and Cedar Rapids RoughRiders this season. Those teams have a combined 2-10-3 record.

Muskegon’s three loses came at the hands of the Under-17 National team and the Phantoms, whose combined record is 6-6.

“As a team we have to be quicker,” said Lumberjacks Coach John LaFontaine, about his team’s performance in the losses. “We did not transition on both offense and defense, especially against Youngstown. We are being challenged but I feel that we are not far off.”

LaFontaine also feels his team must defend better, especially in the neutral zone, and have more puck control in the offensive zone.

“We are giving up the puck too much in the offensive zone,” he said.

Muskegon will also look to improve on special teams. The Lumberjacks are currently 12th in the 17-team league in both power plays and penalty kills.

The Lumberjacks are 3-for-27 with a man advantage for an 11 percent average. They have allowed six power play goals in 28 shorthanded situations for a 79 percent penalty kill.

“We have to get more shots on the power play,” said LaFontaine. “We are passing up way too many shots. As for our penalty kill, we are asking the guys to be more aggressive and they have been slowly getting better.”

Despite the up and down start for the Lumberjacks, LaFontaine is pleased with the way his team is developing at this point of the season.

“We have a well-balanced team with speed, skill, size and players who will compete,” he said. “There is a good mixture of youth and veterans who seem to have learned how to play together.”

On the road again

Muskegon is currently 4-3 on the season, good for eight points and fourth place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference, four points behind first-place Chicago.

The Lumberjacks will head back on the road to face the Bloomington Thunder on Friday and the Waterloo Black Hawks, the first-place team in the Western Conference, on Saturday. Both games are slated to start at 8:00 p.m. EST.

The Jacks will return home for a pair of games a week later, Oct. 28 and 29, against Sioux Falls. Puck drop will be 7:15 p.m. for both contests.