It’s been a while

February 18, 2011

We’re just over an hour away from the opening puck drop between the Jacks and Team USA’s Under-17 outfit here at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. It’s been some time (3 1/2 months, approx.) since we’ve been here, yet the feeling is quite familiar.

Back on Friday, Nov. 5, the Jacks were trying to snap out of the inevitable rough early going of an expansion season in a league as tough as the USHL. They were also looking to exorcise the demons of an ugly loss to the U-18 squad in this very building the second week of the season. The Jacks were able to parly a 5-3 win Friday night into a 7-4 thwomping of the U-18s back at the L.C. Walker Arena Saturday night.

Today the Jacks feel the same need for a hot streak-triggering victory at the Cube. The Jacks’ first three-game losing streak can easily be read as a tribute to how consistently the team bounced back thus far this season. But it’s still a three-game losing streak, no matter how you cut it. And a win tonight, followed by taking a full head of steam into Youngstown tomorrow night could spell the beginning of something good. KP would tell me to focus on the task at hand. So let’s do just that. Tune in beginning at 6:30 p.m. tonight at 92.5 FM The Outlaw and

P.S. I wholeheartedly apologize if the title of this post results in Staind’s mediocre hit single from several years back being stuck in your head. Now I’ve done it. It’s in my head. Yikes.

Paul’s perfecto

February 6, 2011

Some day, Paul Berrafato will tell his grandchildren that he put on a headstand exhibition and turned aside dozens of shots in his first United States Hockey League shutout.

The reality is that he only had to turn aside a dozen in the Jacks’ 3-0 victory over the Chicago Steel Saturday night. Paul’s not about to apologize for how he got his first clean sheet. What he was more than willing to do was pay credit to his boys.

The Jacks’ forecheck was stifling. Their neutral zone puck movement was brilliant. As a result, about three-quarters of the game took place in the Jacks’ offensive zone.

I was admittedly curious how the Jacks would fare against a wounded animal like the Chicago Steel, which is now winless over a 21-game span. But the boys played with an impetus and did exactly what they should do against a fledgling team – they dominated them for almost all 60 minutes.

It’s easy to pull for a team like the Jacks, although I’m blessed with more opportunities to get to know the guys better than the average Jacks fanatic. I’ve quickly learned that this is a great group of guys who battle for each other and are quick to pay credit to others first, themselves a distant second.

Paul Berrafato specifically is a guy you can’t help but pull for. He’s brought the house down both times he’s starred on the radio show. He always makes sure to say hey, ask you how you are and genuinely care about your answer. And I couldn’t be more proud of Paul. A clean sheet, not matter how many shots are on it, couldn’t have happened to a better guy.

Meet Kiko

February 2, 2011

Last Tuesday in Indianapolis, Christian “Kiko” Kraus made a sensational USHL debut for the Muskegon Lumberjacks. The Bratislava, Slovakia, native scored his first goal and dealt out an assist on the game-tying goal in the waning minutes of regulation.

As Jacks Head Coach Kevin Patrick stated after the game, such a performance went a long way in establishing trust with Kiko’s new teammates. No matter what might be lost in translation, there’s no misconstruing what a multi-point game in your debut will do for comradery.

Jacks forward and Bratislavla, Slovakia, native Christian Kraus skates through center ice during the Jacks' 6-4 victory over Youngstown at the L.C. Walker Arena on Saturday, Jan. 29.

It’s been about two weeks since Kiko arrived, and I’ve been blown away with how quickly his English has already improved. But aside from how impressive that is, and his impressive debut in hostile territory, what impressed me most was the power play he executed at the Subway downtown yesterday.

I’d taken Kiko to our team photographer to have his head shots taken. Afterward, I offered to buy the 6-2, 205-pound winger lunch. I’ve discovered that’s the fastest way to the heart of an athlete who burns tens of thousands of calories every week.

Kiko ordered his buffalo chicken sub first and I followed with my order. As I finished specifying which veggies I wanted, I looked to my right and there was Kiko, insisting that he pay for lunch.

“Ever since I got here, everybody’s paid,” said Kiko. Then a big smile spread across his face. “Today? I pay.”

How could I argue? It was all too evident that Kiko is a guy who loves to give. After all, following his debut last Tuesday, I asked him how he thought he did in his first game.

“It was good to help my teammates,” Kiko said. Now there’s a concept that’s impossible to lose in translation.

Why I work here

January 16, 2011

Something pretty cool happened here in the office yesterday.

Chris Lochner’s parents Bob and Debbie were doing some pregame shopping, and I got the chance to meet them and chat for a few.

Debbie caught me off-guard with how excited she was to meet me. I’m no Ron Burgandy; I don’t consider myself to be kind of a big deal. But as we spoke, it quickly started to make sense. When we’re 1,000-plus miles from Chris’ hometown of Alpharetta, Ga., I have the distinguished honor of, in a weird way, keeping the 20-year-old spitfire in touch with his folks.

What a feeling it is to know I have the privelege to do that. And the reason it resonated with me so much is I can relate. I’ve gotta admit, I don’t call home and check in with my parents as often as I should. But I’m not worried about it, because they get to hear from me with regularity. Let’s just say my mother might be the biggest Lumberjacks fan on the other side of Lake Michigan.

I got into this business because I love hockey, I’m a firm believer in the importance of developing athletes off the ice as much as on, and God gave me a gift for gab. But with every game I call, and with every parent I meet who’s excited to put a face to the voice that keeps them up to speed while their son vies for a great education and, God-willing, the NHL, the more I have to pinch myself. I’m living the dream, one day at a time.

Hi again Jacks fans,

I am back with another installment of “From Behind the Counter.” This week I would like to
announce an exciting partnership with a local Muskegon business, Clay
Avenue Cellars. They will be providing the house wine for all upcoming Lumberjacks games.
We will be offering two flavors: Tart Cherry and Queen Anne ’s Lace. Cellars has been in business since 2006 and have developed a great reputation around Muskegon for making high quality wines. Josh Mervis has put a high premium on working with local
companies in Muskegon, he wants to continue to do this and form strong ties to the community. Clay
Ave. Cellars is another step in this process.

Our hope is if you have an appreciation for a nice wine then you will buy a glass and let your
friends know we have taken it up a notch and now offer a wine to be proud of. The flavors may change
throughout the season, so please let us know what flavor you would like to try next. Please visit Clay
Ave. Cellars’ website at

The other item I would like to mention is we are running specials in January. We will be offering
$2 deals until the end of the first period of play. When the horn sounds, the deals end. We have
available $2 16-ounce domestic beer at the bars, sections 107, 113, and 115. We will also have $2 soda and
$2 popcorn available at the stands located in sections 101, 109, and 112. Once again these deals end at
the end of the first period so get down here early and take advantage.

Also don’t forget Sunday is a $5 ticket game, let your friends and family know about the
specials. If you, your friends, or your family has not been to a game you are truly missing out, this is
some of the best hockey this building has seen in years. January is the month to reintroduce everyone
to Muskegon hockey and its proud tradition.

Hockey is like great theatre. Every performance is different, and every time you go you might
see something you have never seen before. Don’t miss out.

I look forward to seeing all of you at the games.

Rob Willi
Asst. Manager
Logger Concessions

Jacks’ “day off”

January 10, 2011

One thing we’ll never have to question about the Muskegon Lumberjacks is their work ethic.

Given the frenetic schedule through which the guys have gone this season, the Jacks’ coaching staff gave the players the day off on Monday to mend/catch up on homework. Still, there they were on Monday afternoon, 10 Muskegon Lumberjacks getting reps in either on the ice or in the workout room at the L.C. Walker Arena.

Jacks forward Matt DeBlouw leaves the ice after an hour and a half of impromptu practice at the L.C. Walker Arena Monday afternoon.

The only skater on the ice without pads or a helmet was Jacks Assistant Coach Dave Noel-Bernier, who put on a clinic during an impromptu 3-on-3 exhibition game.

“Bernie gives his all, so we’ve got to give our all too,” said Lumberjacks forward Matt DeBlouw, who took full advantage of the first day he was cleared for full contact after suffering a lacerated spleen in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010.

Now that he’s back in action, DeBlouw can’t imagine anyplace he’d rather be than on the ice. Same goes for his teammates.

“This is what we’re here for and we’re having fun out there playing 3-on-3,” DeBlouw said. “For some of the guys who aren’t playing as much as they’d like, it’s about getting better. That’s what it’s all about is getting better every day.”

Jacks fired up to face Ice

January 5, 2011

The Muskegon Lumberjacks-Indiana Ice rivalry hasn’t achieved Red Wings-Blackhawks status yet. But it’s well on its way.

The USHL clubs’ rivalry will be renewed on Friday night, and sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference will hang in the balance as both teams will enter with 30 points under their belt. It will be a tilt the guys will have zero problem getting fired up for.

“The coaches don’t have to say anything; we don’t have to say anything to each other,” said Lumberjacks defenseman Alexx Privitera, who leads all USHL defenseman with 19 points. “It’s just something everybody knows.”

That includes the Jacks’ fans. Thus far, the poll on the home page at has revealed that the Muskegon faithful deem the Indiana Ice the Jacks’ biggest rival thus far. I don’t think the players would disagree with their supporters.

Back on Saturday, Oct. 23, the Jacks felt like they had a score to settle when the Ice visited the L.C. Walker Arena for the second time this regular season. The Ice got the jump, however, and the Jacks were forced to rally from a pair of three-goal deficit in order to burn their Eastern Conference foe 5-4 in the shootout.

Now it’s the Ice that might just feel a bit spurned. Don’t think they’ve forgotten about blowing that lead. Add that into the fact that they’re white-hot as of late, having won 10 of their last 11 games, and it’s a recipe for a whale of a throwdown at the Indy Pepsi Colliseum Friday night.

It’s a foregone conclusion the Ice have been chomping at the bit to see the Jacks in their home barn. Again, it has all the makings of a barnburner.

Between exhibition play and the regular season, there’s no team the Jacks have seen more, as they played two games at the Carmel Ice Skadium just outside Indianapolis during the exhibition slate.

“Indy’s been our biggest rival ever since the preseason game when they handed it to us,” Privitera said of a 12-2 setback the Jacks suffered on Saturday, Sept. 18. “You feel like you owe them every time.”

Don’t miss out on Friday night’s throwdown. Visit leading up to the game to watch it online for $7. Or turn your radio dial to 92.5FM, The Outlaw at 6:35 to listen in. I’ll do my very best to describe just how heated the atmosphere gets.