Thursday, January 06, 2011

Top line in Muskegon paying dividends

By Christopher Heimerman

Any job is easier when you enjoy the people you work with.

Right now, Ryan Misiak, Matt Berry and Travis Belohrad feel like they’ve got the greatest job in the world.

The three Muskegon Lumberjacks comprise one of the most prolific lines in the United States Hockey League. In fact, it’s one of just two lines in the league whose three skaters have each scored at least 10 goals. Their success stems not just from their talents, but also from the job the Jacks’ coaching staff has done in developing them and identifying their chemistry.

It’s also a tribute to how much the trio genuinely enjoys being together.

“We’re with each other a lot,” Belohrad says. “We’ll go sledding, bowling…”

“See movies, play Xbox…” Berry adds.

“And mini sticks,” Misiak chimes in. “I scored the greatest mini stick goal of all time.”

Whether it’s in the heat of battle on the ice or wherever the war is being waged, the three Jacks are driven by friendly competition.

“More than anything, we’re really competitive – even with each other,” Misiak says, with a smile spreading across his face. “One wants to outdo the other, and it just continues to go from there.”

“We go back and forth with it all the time, but it’s all in good fun,” Berry says.

“We push each other that way, but we also support each other,” Belohrad adds.

Misiak, a Shelby Township native who is committed to Mercyhurst College, is third in the league in points with 34 (11 goals, 23 assists). He’s the line’s left wing, and he’s played the position since playing youth hockey for the Little Caesars program.

Berry, another Michigan product hailing from Canton, is committed to Michigan State University and has racked up 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists), good for fifth in the league. Berry made the transition from center to right wing a few years ago during his time with Belle Tire youth hockey.

Belohrad, a Brighton, Colo., native, scored three goals over two games on Friday, Dec. 31 and Saturday, Jan. 1, and now has 13 points on 10 goals and three helpers. The playmaking pivot also made a position change – from right wing to center – a few years ago while with the Colorado Outlaws. His assist numbers don’t do his selflessness justice, but they do reflect how in-sync he and his linemates are, constantly filling in for one another.

“We’re very good at covering for each other and jumping into each other’s positions,” Belohrad says. “If I’m not the first guy back, I can trust Meesh or Berry going down low to cover me. That’s one of the main reasons we have success.”

Berry and Belohrad are cutting their teeth on the fastest, most skilled competition in junior hockey in the nation during their rookie season in the USHL. Misiak posted 17 points in 52 games for the Sioux Falls Stampede last season.

The three skaters have been virtually inseparable both on and off the ice since they were first assembled by Jacks head coach Kevin Patrick on Friday, Oct. 15, the night the Jacks earned their first USHL victory, 6-0 in Sioux City. Time has blurred by for the threesome since then, particularly since they’ve spent so much time “in the zone.”

“I don’t know how to describe it; something just happens and everything’s going your way,” Misiak said.

“You definitely get on a roll when you get a few good shifts in,” Belohrad said. “It’s often the little plays like lifting a guy’s stick in front of the net or creating turnovers on their blue line - little things like that can make a huge difference in the game and get you going.”

Despite the trio’s success, it’s not lost on the group that there’s no “I” in Muskegon Lumberjacks.

“At the end of the day, I can say all of us would rather have two points than the points we’d get individually,” Belohrad said.

They’re quick to pay credit to all 23 rostered players for the Jacks’ success as an expansion team.

“Obviously when all of our lines are rolling, it tires out the other team,” Berry said. “It gives us a better chance to cycle and get things going.”

They’ve certainly got a good thing going, and they anticipate looking back on it fondly for years to come.

“We’ve learned to rely on each other,” Misiak says. “It’s crazy to think that one year in Muskegon could give you lifelong friendships with guys like these. It’s kind of cool if you think about it.”

- Christopher Heimerman is the broadcaster and communications director of the Muskegon Lumberjacks. He can be reached HERE.

No comments: