MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks are still developing as a hockey team, which is obvious from the results so far this season.
Some nights they look like potential Clark Cup champions, other nights not so much. They have a ton of talent but are still working on consistency.
There’s one thing you can always count on from the Jacks, however – they always put up a fight, and frequently rally when they get behind.
A lot of the comebacks have resulted in exciting victories, like in the first game of the season on Sept. 22, when the Jacks trailed 2-0, exploded for five unanswered goals in the first period, and won 7-4.
Then there was the Oct. 7 game at home against Cedar Rapids, when the Jacks trialed 2-0 in the second period but rallied to win 3-2, or the next night when they trailed the Roughriders 2-1 but came back to win 6-2.
Then there was the Oct. 28 game in Madison, when Muskegon trailed 2-0, came back to tie the score, fell behind 3-2, then exploded for three goals in the third period and won 5-3.
The Comeback Lumberjacks were at it again last weekend in Dubuque, where they split a pair of games with the host Fighting Saints.
On Friday night Muskegon trailed 2-1 in the second period but rallied and won 3-2 in an overtime shootout.
Saturday nights’ comeback was even more dramatic. The Lumberjacks trailed 3-0 early in the second period, tied the score 3-3 by the end of the second, but ended up falling in a heartbreaker, 5-4.
There are ups and downs to the team’s knack for comebacks, according to Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton.
He says it’s terrific to be able to rally but wishes his team wouldn’t have to do it so much.
“It’s great that we have a group of guys who are always going to find a way to bring themselves back into it,” he said. “The good part is that we’re never really out of a game. We’re never going to give up. But you can only keep going to that well so many times.
“We have to figure out how to come out and have better starts, not just in the first period, but starts to all of the periods. Our focus and attention coming out of the locker room needs to be addressed.
“Sometimes we just wait around to see what the other team is going to do. We let the opponent dictate the style and pace instead of imposing our will. We shouldn’t have to get behind in games before we wake up.”
Friday night thriller
Friday’s 3-2 shootout victory over Dubuque was a nail-biter from start to finish.
Muskegon’s Jake Richard started things off with a power play goal in the first period, Dubuque answered with a goal of its own and the score was 1-1 heading into the second.
Dubuque took a 2-1 lead in the second frame, then Richard scored another power play goal to tie the game 2-2 at the second break.
There was no scoring in the third period or the five-minute sudden-death overtime period, so the outcome had to be determined by a shootout.
Six players took turns going one-on-one with the opposing goalie and five missed the mark. The only player who was successful was Muskegon rookie Matvei Gridin, who scored on the Lumberjacks’ third try and gave them a thrilling 3-2 win.
“There was a little bit of everything involved – special teams, a penalty shot, the shootout – it was highly entertaining,” Hamilton said about the game. “Every college coach that was there said afterward how entertaining it was. It was one of those team effort games. It great that we came out on top.”
The Jacks’ victory was made possible by goalie Conor Callaghan, who stopped 23 of 25 shots in regulation and the five-minute overtime period, plus all three one-on-one shots he faced in the shootout.
Callaghan also kept the Jacks alive when he stopped a penalty shot taken by Dubuque’s Ryan St. Louis just 53 seconds into the five-minute overtime. If the puck had gone in the net, the game would have been over.
Callaghan was even more impressive when you consider he didn’t play at all the previous weekend against Green Bay due to illness.
“He was phenomenal on Friday,” Hamilton said about Callaghan. “There were a lot of things he went through – the penalty shot and the shootout – he stopped all four of those. And there were numerous situations throughout the game when he bailed us out. He was the No. 1 star on Friday night.”
McCarthy gets his goal – and then another one!
Defenseman Gavin McCarthy has been turning heads lately by getting a ton of assists.
He collected his 11th and 12th of the season on Friday night, which kept him near the top of the Lumberjacks’ point production chart.
But when recently asked about all those assists, McCarthy said he wouldn’t be happy until he got a goal to go with them.
That finally happened on Saturday, when he scored a pair of goals in the second period.
McCarthy’s four points on the weekend brought him the honor of USHL Defenseman of the Week.
“He was a stud all weekend,” Hamilton said. “He logged a lot of minutes and his game is really starting to come together.
“It’s not the points he gets that are the big thing for me, it’s the way he defends. And when he plays with a lot of grit on defense and still adds some offense, that’s pretty special. He has the puck on his stick a lot and he’s not afraid to deliver it to the net.”