Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Muskegon finishes successful season

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.

While the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ inaugural season in the United States Hockey League did not conclude with the hoisting of the Clark Cup, there are still innumerable accomplishments to celebrate.

With a thorough sweep of Team USA’s developmental program, the Jacks advanced to the second round of the Clark Cup playoffs. The Jacks were very well-represented in the league’s scoring leaders, and they never went more than three games without picking up at least a point. Of the 23 members of the team’s final roster, 14 of them committed to Division I universities.

The Jacks were one of the last five teams standing in the postseason, as the other three teams eliminated in the second round all were swept. The fifth-seeded Jacks, who finished 24-28-8 for 56 points in the regular season, forced Game 4 against the top-seeded Cedar Rapids RoughRiders with a decisive 5-1 victory at the L.C. Walker Arena on Saturday. But the Riders won 7-3 on Monday to bring the Jacks’ splendid first USHL season to a close.

“We met a lot of our expectations,” Jacks head coach Kevin Patrick said. “But we’re not happy, and we’re not satisfied. We want to win our last game of the season. The ultimate goal is winning the championship.”

Through the first two rounds, the Jacks placed four skaters – Matt DeBlouw, Matt Berry, Ryan Misiak and Travis Belohrad – in the league’s top 12 in postseason scoring. DeBlouw, who, along with Berry, is committed to Michigan State University, finished tied for second in the playoffs with eight points. His three goals and five assists both were one more than his haul in those categories in the regular season.

As for the regular season, the Jacks boasted two skaters in the top 16 in points. Misiak, a Shelby Township native who was acquired from Sioux Falls during exhibition play, finished tied for ninth in the league with 58 points. The Mercyhurst College commit was fifth in the league in assists with 43. His linemate, Berry, a Canton native, was 16th in the league in points with 51. The USHL rookie’s 25 goals were tied for sixth in the league.

Berry also was one of three Jacks, including Belohrad and Charlie Taft, to register a hat trick this season. Taft parlayed his trifecta with two assists to set a franchise record with five points in a 5-0 victory over Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 18. The Edina, Minn., native also set a team mark with a +5 plus/minus rating in the rout.

Misiak and Berry tied for the team’s longest point streak this season, both stretching eight games from Friday, Nov. 5 through Saturday, Nov. 20. Misiak led the Jacks in multi-point games with 17, which included a team-best four three-point games. Rock-steady defenseman Carter Foguth, a Fenton native and USHL rookie, led the team in plus/minus at +10.

Travis Walsh, another rookie defenseman, finished 4-for-8 in the shootout. His finest work came in a 2-1 shootout win over Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Dec. 4, in which he broke up a scoreless shootout in the fourth round. The dazzling play impressed on a global scale, as it was featured many times during ESPN programs and appeared on myriad websites, many of them not sports-related.

Jacks defenseman Alexx Privitera, an Old Tappan, N.J., native who is committed to Boston University for this fall, was among the league’s leaders in terms of defensemen throughout the course of the season. He finished tied for fourth in points among blueliners with 34. His 10 goals also were tied for fourth among defensemen.

But Patrick prefers to focus how the team got stronger from top to bottom throughout its first USHL season, as evidenced by its promising postseason run. Now he and his assistant coach, Dave Noel-Bernier, quickly will get to work on surrounding the Jacks’ returners with even more talent.

They will be scouting in Chicago this weekend for the USHL Combine, where every USHL team will be represented. They could potentially be in Topeka, Kan., next week before heading to Taylor for the Michigan District USA Hockey Select tryouts. With the assistance of Jacks owner Josh Mervis and the team’s prestigious scouting staff, the organization long has been building its big board for the USHL Entry Draft, which is Monday, May 16 at 11 a.m.

“You’ve got to put this season to bed,” Patrick said. “Building for the future is an ongoing process.”

The Jacks’ tryout camp will take place from June 13-19 at the L.C. Walker Arena. They’ve already brought six players into the system – three of them Michigan products – via the recent USHL Futures Draft.

“I’m excited about the players we have on our list from last year’s draft who weren’t with us this year,” Patrick said. “Now we’ve got the opportunity to get the next group of players under our umbrella."

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