MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks were thrilled with Quinn Hutson’s performance in the regular season.
He led the team in scoring, and was eighth in the league, with 73 points (33 goals and 40 assists).
Those were big numbers for a guy who showed promise last season, with 16 goals and 26 assists, and obviously picked up his game this year.
But something about the Clark Cup playoffs has brought out the beast in Hutson, and suddenly he’s putting the puck in the net at a remarkable rate.
Hutson leads the USHL in playoff scoring with six goals and four assists through four games.
He had one goal and one assist in each of the first two playoff games against Cedar Rapids. He had the same in the first game of the second round against Dubuque, before cashing in with a three-goal hat trick in Sunday’s decisive 8-5 victory in Dubuque, which gave the Lumberjacks a berth in the Eastern Conference finals.
“I’ve kind of been getting a little bit luckier in the playoffs, and I’ve been shooting a little bit more, too,” Hutson told MuskegonSports.com. “There is a lot more pressure in the playoffs. I feel like if I’m not scoring then I’m not helping the team as much.”
The Jacks’ opponent in the conference finals will be the Madison Capitols, who advanced by upsetting the Chicago Steel 2 games to 1 in the other conference semifinal series. The Capitols ended the series by rallying for a 4-2 victory over the Steel in Chicago on Tuesday night.
Games 1 and 2 will be in Muskegon on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. Game 3 will be in Madison on Monday, and Game 4, if necessary, would be in Madison on Tuesday.
A decisive Game 5, if necessary, would be back in Muskegon on Thursday May 12.
When asked whether he would prefer to play Madison or Chicago in the conference finals, Hutson said he didn’t care, but he’s had plenty of success against the Capitols this season, tallying six goals and seven assists.
The way he’s been playing, it doesn’t really matter who the Lumberjacks match up with in the playoffs, because Hutson is simply finding the net.
Hutson was at his best on Sunday night in Dubuque, when Muskegon pulled out a wild win to end the Fighting Saints’ season.
Hutson scored once in the first period, giving the Jacks a 2-0 lead. He scored again in the second period, putting Muskegon up 4-1, then added an empty-netter late in the game, giving the Jacks a 7-5 lead.
Two minutes later the Jacks had won, swept the short series 2-0, and obtained their ticket to the conference finals.
Hutson said the Jacks’ confidence never waned in the Dubuque series, even when the momentum seemed to be turning against them.
The Jacks led Game 1 in Muskegon 2-0, allowed the Fighting Saints to tie the score, then pulled together and won 4-3.
In Dubuque the Jacks led 5-1, then Dubuque rushed back to tie the score 5-5 in the third period, before Muskegon nailed down the series with three late goals.
“I think everyone was a little scared (about Sunday’s Dubuque comeback), but even if it had gone to overtime, we still would have won that game,” said Hutson, who will move on to play college hockey at Boston University next sesaon. “After having a four-goal lead, you are bound to score another one in the third period, and we ended up getting two more after that.”
The Lumberjacks have thrived all season with a very balanced scoring attack. Some teams have two or three guys who score a lot, but the Jacks had eight players with double-digit goal totals in the regular season, and nine with at least 40 points (goals plus assists).
Four Jacks finished in the top 20 in the league scoring race – Hutson, Joey Larson (32 goals, 34 assists), Jack Williams (18 goals, 41 assists) and Ben Strinden (25 goals, 32 assists).
Now the same thing is happening in the playoffs. Hutson leads the league in playoff points, Larson is second with no goals but eight assists, Mehlenbacher is fifth with three goals and three assists, Williams is sixth with two goals and four assists, while Jacob Guevin is ninth with two goals and three assists.
Hutson said all the Lumberjacks are playing well because they are a hungry and happy team. He said all the players get along well, and nobody is ready for the season to end.
“I don’t think anybody wants to leave right now, and after winning that first playoff game against Cedar Rapids 6-0 it was a big confidence boost,” he said. “Everyone knows we got a chance now.
“Every team has a chance, and I think it comes down to whoever wants it more. We just want it more right now. We have a good team, everyone gets along and everyone wants to be here.”
If the Lumberjacks win the Eastern Conference finals, they will advance to the USHL finals with a chance to win the first Clark Cup in franchise history.
If they won the Cup, it would not be the first time that Hutson has celebrated a championship in Muskegon. He was just a few months old back in 2002 when his father, Rob Hutson, was a member of the old Muskegon Fury pro team that won the Colonial Cup that year.
His dad put Baby Quinn inside the Cup during the team celebration at L.C. Walker Arena – which of course Quinn does not recall.
“I saw a picture of when they won it, of me inside the cup,” Hutson told MuskegonSports.com last fall. “Hopefully I had clothes on.”