By Dave Hart

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks brought in some home-grown talent last week when they acquired forward Dylan Wendt from the Green Bay Gamblers in exchange for defensemen John Procop.

Wendt, who will be 19 in January, grew up in Grand Haven. He has spent a significant amount of time away from home since he was 14, including four years playing for various youth development teams in the Detroit area, and a little over a year in Green Bay.

Now he’s finally back in West Michigan, living and spending time with his parents Tom and Jennifer Wendt, after years of living with billet families during hockey season.

Muskegon forward Dylan Wendt pushes the puck up the ice during his debut for the Lumberjacks on Saturday. Photo/Leo Valdez

“I was caught by surprise when Green Bay traded me to Muskegon,” said Wendt, who played his first game with the Lumberjacks at home last Saturday. “I was very happy with the trade, to be able to come home and still get to play junior hockey. This trade worked out for both sides.”

Hockey has been a huge part of life for the Wendt family. Dylan’s Uncle Tim Wendt played for Ferris State University in the 1980s. His father Tom also played hockey until his freshman year of high school.

Like most young players with a lot of potential, Wendt hit the road at a very young age to play for the best youth developmental teams and coaches available. That meant living with other families in distant cities during the winter.

He displayed a lot of potential along the way.

Wendt played for the Michigan Nationals Bantam Minor squad for 10 games during the 2014-15 season. He then played two seasons for Belle Tire, accumuting for 23 goals and 13 assists in 42 games between 2015-2017. He played one season for the Honeybaked U16 squad in 2017-18, and had seven goals and 12 assists in 17 games.

He was selected by the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL’s Phase 1 draft in the spring of 2018 and played for that team last season and the start of this season, before the trade sent him home.

“It was a cool experience to get to meet new families and see how they were different from my own family,” Wendt said about spending several years in the Detroit area and Green Bay. “But it feels good to get to sleep in my own bed and still get to experience being a junior hockey player.

Wendt waits for the puck to drop before a faceoff. Photo/Leo Valdez

“I had thought about what it would be like to be drafted by Muskegon. I attended some games as a kid once in a while, when we weren’t traveling for hockey. It feels good to put on a Lumberjacks uniform.

“I have heard a lot of great things about this franchise in recent years. They do a phenomenal job developing players, and when I showed up they gave me a warm welcome. This is a high-class organization.”

Since joining the USHL last season, Wendt has notched five goals and 17 assists in 67 games for the Gamblers. One of his five goals came against Muskegon this season.

“The guys were giving me a hard time about scoring against them,” Wendt said.

Wendt has committed to play college hockey for the University of Michigan, but is open to playing for the Lumberjacks next season if he is not ready to play collegiately.

Sixth place, but very close to second

The Lumberjacks are coming off an unusually quiet weekend, when they only played one game, and it turned out to be a 3-1 loss at home to Des Moines.

The Jacks are now 8-6-1 on the season. They have 17 points and are in sixth place in the UHSL’s Eastern Conference standings, which remain very tight.

Chicago is in first place with 25 points, but very little separates the second through eighth-place teams. Dubuque has 21 points, followed by Green Bay (20), Cedar Rapids (19), Youngstown (18), Muskegon (17) and Team USA (16). Only Madison, with five points, is far out of the race.

On road this weekend, home on Wednesday

The Lumberjacks will travel out west to play road games in Omaha against the Lancers on Friday and Saturday night. It will be an excellent opportunity for the Jacks to pick up some points in the standings, because the Lancers have been struggling, posting a 5-7-3 record so far this season, leaving them in seventh place in the eight-team Western Conference.

The Lumberjacks will return home next Wednesday, Nov. 27, for a special Thanksgiving Eve game against the Team USA Under 17 squad at 7:05 p.m. They will travel to Chicago to play the Steel on Friday Nov. 29, then return home to host Chicago the next night.