By Dave Hart

MUSKEGON – The L.C. Walker Arena had three special guests at Saturday night’s contest between the Muskegon Lumberjacks and the Team USA Under-18 national squad.

Detroit Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland was present, along with two very well-known former Red Wings – the legendary Steve Yzerman and Kris Draper. Their presence was not announced to the crowd, but plenty of fans noticed them and word spread quickly.

Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland talks with LSJ reporter Dave Hart.

Holland, who came to scout some of the great young talent that the United States Hockey league has to offer, stood on the concourse and politely chatted with anyone who approached him.

He quickly agreed to a between-periods interview with, and talked about all the prospects he was watching, particularly on the super-talented Team USA U-18 roster.

“Team USA has a number of players who are going to go high in the draft and throughout the draft,” said Holland, who started his off-ice career as a scout, from 1985-97. “These players work hard all year to go to the NHL Combine at the end of the year.

“I’m also going to watch the U-18 team on Sunday, before our game against Dallas. They have lots of great players, so I’m going to watch them when I get a chance. I live five minutes away from where Team USA plays (in Plymouth, Michigan), and sometimes I see them when they play other USHL teams.”

Holland was happy about what he saw on the ice. Team USA cruised to an 8-3 victory over the Lumberjacks, but it was Muskegon’s first loss of the season. The Jacks are currently 8-1 and have plenty of talent themselves.

“It’s a great league that had about 60 players drafted last season,” Holland said. “Many of the players end up playing college hockey.

“There are advantages and disadvantages (to drafting young USHL players), One of the advantages is we own the players’ rights for four years while they are in college. You can give them the development time, if needed.”

Steve Yzerman takes notes in a suite at the LC Walker Arena during the Lumberjacks game on Saturday.

The Red Wings currently need all the young talent they can stock up on, as evidenced by their current struggles on the ice.

Through 10 games of the 2018-19 season, Detroit has only managed one win and has four points in the standings, which is last in the entire National Hockey League.

“We are obviously building, and we have to build it with young players, so I’ve been out watching more amateurs over the last two years than I have been, but I’ve always liked to go out,” Holland said. “I like to go out to the World Junior tournament at Christmas time, it’s the best junior tournament in the world.”

Despite the slow start, Holland is optimist that the Red Wings can turn it around. He doesn’t believe the team is really as bad as its current record indicates.

“We expected to have a better record than what we have now.” he said. “It’s been a very disappointing start. We had two games where we got blown out in Boston and in Montreal. But if you take out empty- net goals, the other eight games were basically one-goal contests.

“We have some young forwards with a lot of responsibilities that they didn’t have last year, but we want to have a better win-loss record than we have, and I know our guys are digging in. We need to find a way to generate more offense.”