The Dubuque Fighting Saints are back at home for two games against the Muskegon Lumberjacks as they take on the Jacks for the first time since the teams squared off to open the 2019-20 season at the USHL Fall Classic in Pittsburgh. Dubuque has continued to roll since that game, while Muskegon has been up and down, but better as of late. The Saints are coming off of one of their best two-month strings in Tier-1 history, putting together 14 wins opposite just four loses (3 in regulation) through the end of November. Dubuque has continued its play as the top defensive team in the USHL. Allowing 38 goals through 18 games this season.
-Dubuque enters the game against the Lumberjacks fresh off of two wins in a three-game road trip. The trip was the longest of the season for Dubuque in terms of days, miles traveled and hours on the bus. Dubuque downed Des Moines on Wednesday, lost to Fargo on Friday and scooted past Sioux Falls in overtime on Saturday.
-Muskegon played twice during the weekend, in a home and home against the Chicago Steel. Chicago currently leads the USHL in points and are at the top of the Eastern Conference. Muskegon hung tough with the Steel, taking three points of a possible four during the series.
-Muskegon was involved in the biggest trade of the 2019-20 season so far as they swapped five pieces to Omaha for five of the Lancers own. The return pieces, primarily Rhett Pitick and Cam Berg, have been solid for Muskegon since hopping over to join the Jacks.
-Berg in particular has been great. He had four points in 14 games with the Lancers with an even split of two goals and two assists. In his brief stint so far in Muskegon, he has already surpassed those totals. In three games with the Lumberjacks, Berg has four goals and two assists.
-Dubuque continues to possess one of the top power plays in the league. However, the Saints have run in to a few issues as of late. They are just 1/16 in their last five games and 0/10 in their last four. Another issue for Dubuque, but a smaller one, is that they have had the fewest penalties called for them in the league. Dubuque has had less than 60 power play opportunities.
-Dylan Jackson and Ty Jackson finished the month just liked they started it, right at the heart of the Saints offense. The twins combined for the overtime winner on Saturday night and on the month had 11 points each. Ty leads Dubuque with 21 points and Dylan has 20, half of which are goals. His 10 goals are one off the team lead.
-Dubuque and Muskegon have had some great battles lately, including their playoff series last season. The Lumberjacks and Fighting Saints have played seven of their last nine regular season games to one goal finishes, with Dubuque holding a 5-4 edge in those games.
-When you watch the Lumberjacks play, you get to see one of the best talents in the USHL in Danil Guschin. The Lumberjacks forward might be the most skilled player in the USHL and has started off strong with 19 points in 18 games. What is remarkable is Guschin hasn’t had a point in eight of those 19 games. When he is on, he is the most dangerous player in the USHL.
-The Lumberjacks will have to contend with Erik Portillo and possibly Aidan McCarthy in net. All the two have done this season is backstop the best defensive team in the league. Portillo is tied for first in wins, third in goals against and fifth in save percentage. McCarthy is 4-1 in his backup role, has a 1.78 GAA, a .921 save percentage and the team’s only shutout to date.
-Muskegon has been arguably the streakiest team in the league this season. The Lumberjacks started the season at 0-4, then rattled off seven straight wins to move to 7-4 entering November. In November, the Jacks went 3-5-2.
-Part of the reason for the inconsistency might lie in the experience of the Lumberjacks. Muskegon has the youngest roster in the USHL, only carrying two 1999 birth years (the oldest eligible age this season). Muskegon has a plethora of talent and can make a run later this season while also looking forward to next year.
-The games at Mystique Ice Center will both be 7:05 puck drops. Dubuque will host its 10th Annual Teddy Bear Toss on Saturday night. All the stuffed animals thrown will be donated to Toys for Tots in Dubuque. For tickets to both Friday and Saturday’s game, call 563-583-6880 or visit DubuqueFightingSaints.com