By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – Losing is obviously very motivational for Muskegon Lumberjacks forward Oliver MacDonald.

Last Friday, while his teammates were hosting Green Bay in the first of a two-game weekend series, MacDonald was forced to watch, after drawing a league suspension for one game for inadvertent head contact with an opponent.

Oliver MacDonald (16) hustles for the puck with teammate Christophe Fillion. Photo/Leo Valdez

There was nothing he could do as the Jacks played their worst game in weeks, and fell 5-1 to the Gamblers in front of their home fans.

But MacDonald was back on Saturday night, and made a big difference, collecting a goal and an assist in the Lumberjacks’ thrilling 5-4 overtime victory over Green Bay.

He made his presence felt right away, skating between the faceoff circles in the Gamblers’ zone, then feeding a beautiful no-look, backhand pass to teammate  Christophe Fillion, who blasted a one-timer into the net to give the Jacks a 1-0 lead.

“When I entered the zone I saw the direction Fillion was heading and knew he would be in that general area,” said MacDonald, who will lead the Jacks in a home game this Saturday against Des Moines. “Then he called out real loud so I kind of threw it to where I thought he would be. He made a great shot.”

Muskegon trailed 4-3 when MacDonald scored midway through the third period, sending the game to overtime. Then Fillion put an end to the issue with a goal just 1:51 into the extra period, giving the Lumberjacks a thrilling 5-4 win and ending their two-game winless streak.

“I was just excited to be back,” said MacDonald, who is one of two team captains this season. “After that tough night, when we didn’t have much energy or play our game, I thought it was important for me to step up.”

No. 12 Alex Konovalov tries to find his balance in traffic. Photo/Jason Goorman

Saturday wasn’t the first time that MacDonald played a major role in ending a skid for the Lumberjacks.

The team started the season 0-4 and had lots of fans worried, then finally broke into the victory column with an 8-1 win on the road against Team USA on Oct. 11. MacDonald led the charge, incredibly scoring a three-goal hat trick in the first period, and ending up with four in the game.

That victory turned out to be the start of an exciting seven-game winning streak that put Muskegon right back into the hunt for the conference lead.

“Starting with four straight losses was not ideal, especially after last year when we got off to a great start,” MacDonald said. “We were kind of to the point where I knew I had to start helping out and putting up some points.

“That night was funny, because the whole week during practice, I was focused on shooting every puck, and it was the same thing in the game. Every chance I had I shot, and things went in. It was just a really good night. We needed to bounce back.”

MacDonald’s recent hot streak has put him right in the middle of the USHL scoring race. He’s currently third in the league in scoring with 10 goals and 7 assists for 17 points. The leader is Youngstown’s Trevor Kentar, who has 20 points.

MacDonald is tied with three other players, including Kentar, for the league lead in goals. Muskegon’s Alex Konovalov is tied for fourth place in the league in assists with 10.

Last year MacDonald had 8 goals and 19 assists in 53 games with the Lumberjacks. He has already surpassed his goal total from last year in just 13 games, and seems poised to take a huge leap forward in his offensive production.

“I feel like last year I was a young player in the league, just trying to find my way into the lineup,” he said. “As the season progressed, after Christmas break, I started getting in consistently, and by the end started putting up some points. That gave me the confidence I needed going into this year, and in the offseason I trained almost every day.”

The comeback kids

Saturday’s come-from-behind win over Green Bay is the latest example of a promising trend. The Jacks have rallied from deficits in five different games this season. Four have turned out to be wins, one was an overtime loss, but they all produced points in the standings.

Apparently the Jacks never believe they are out of any game, and keep battling until the final horn. That quality could produce some big wins by the time the season is over.

“At the beginning of the year we had so much young talent, but we didn’t know we had this gritty side to us,” MacDonald said.  “That’s what’s most impressive about our team, and that’s why we will be very successful. We have the grit to overcome adversity.”

Tight conference race

The Jacks are 8-5-1, good for 17 points in the USHL’s Eastern Conference standings. They are tied with Dubuque for second place. Chicago leads with 18 points.

Green Bay, Cedar Rapids, and Youngstown are tied for third with 16 points and Team USA has 14. Only Madison is already buried in the standings with a 2-12 record and only four points.

The Des Moines Buccaneers, Saturday’s opponent, come in 7-5 with 14 points, good for third place in the Western Conference.

The Saturday game will wrap up a five-game home stand for the Lumberjacks. The following weekend, Nov. 22-23, they will travel out west to play a pair of games in Omaha against the Lancers.

They will return home on Wednesday Nov. 27 for a game against Team USA.