To that end, a list is a fun way to inspire thought and debate, so my thought was to narrow 60 regular-season games down to a top five. Of course a hard-fought defeat can be memorable in its own way, but for our purposes only victories were eligible for selection.
As you might imagine, it was difficult to pick a few favorites from among 17 wins. It's akin to singling out a child you love more than the others, or an ice cream flavor that you like best. That is to say, each choice was good in its own way, so I looked for triumphs that stood out for their unique style, importance and entertainment value.
With the help of some of our Facebook fans, I was able to whittle the list down to a handful, but I made note of a few more that merited a mention. So, submitted for your approval (or disapproval) in ascending order, the Muskegon Lumberjacks' top games of the 2011-12 season:
Honorable mentions, in chronological order (home team in CAPS):
- October 15, 2011 - Muskegon 6, SIOUX FALLS 5: Defensemen rule the day as Ryan Bullock (three assists) and Travis Walsh (two) help the Jacks build 6-2 lead, then Muskegon holds on in the frantic final minutes for first win of the season
- November 4, 2011 - MUSKEGON 4, Youngstown 1: Muskegon scores three times in a span of 5:07 in the first period, capped by Matt DeBlouw chasing Phantoms goalie Sean Romeo; the Jacks close out their third straight win, all at L.C. Walker Arena
- December 2, 2011 - MUSKEGON 5, Youngstown 0: John Keeney makes a season-high 44 saves for his second shutout in three starts; Jon Padulo scores twice and adds an assist
- December 18, 2011 - MUSKEGON 3, Indiana 2 (OT): Mike McNicholas ties the game with 21 seconds left, then Max Shuart earns Muskegon's only sudden-death victory 16 seconds into OT; Keeney matches previous best with 44 stops
- March 3, 2012 - Muskegon 3, SIOUX CITY 1: The Lumberjacks complete a 3-1-1 stretch and jump back in the playoff race; Bullock scores twice, including late empty-netter to clinch final road win of the year
No. 5: February 4, 2012 - MUSKEGON 6, Chicago 1
The Lumberjacks had their struggles against the Steel this season, going 2-6-0 in the season series, but one of their most satisfying nights came against their Eastern Conference rival. Rookie goalie Hayden Stewart picked up his first USHL win, stopping 35 shots, and the offense had its largest output in nearly three months. DeBlouw was the playmaker with three assists, and both Rasmus Bengtsson and Noah Batis scored their first league goals in the blowout. Alex Talcott and Michael Turner also recorded their first points in a Lumberjacks' sweater.
No. 4: November 12, 2011 - Muskegon 5, INDIANA 4
Part of a 6-1-0 surge that saw the Jacks boost their record above .500, this thrilling win at historic Pepsi Coliseum gave Muskegon a unbeaten weekend on the road, as they topped Youngstown 2-1 the night before to start the trip. Future MSU Spartan Joe Cox scored the third-period game winner in both games, and his tiebreaker in Indiana came just after the Ice rallied from two goals down to equalize. Padulo enjoyed his first three-point night as a Lumberjack, and Max Shuart contributed a goal and a helper to the cause.
No. 3: February 25, 2012 - MUSKEGON 6, Indiana 5 (SO)
Yes, another game against Indiana, the second-best team in the East this year. Muskegon beat the Ice four times in eight meetings, but the most dramatic was this Saturday night in the Port City, as the Jacks rallied from 3-0 down after the first period. The biggest comeback of the season was bolstered by DeBlouw's three points (1g, 2a), including a memorable aerial feed to Padulo for a key tally late in the second period. Shuart lit the lamp twice and added an assist, as well. In the shootout, goaltender Stewart allowed only one goal on six Indiana attempts, then Tyler Heinonen and DeBlouw beat the Ice's Jon Gillies to polish off a 2-0 home weekend.
No. 2: January 20, 2012 - MUSKEGON 4, National Under-17 Team 3
Jim McKenzie's debut behind the Lumberjacks bench couldn't have gotten off to a more storybook start, as Ryan Lomberg buried a breakaway with just five seconds to go in regulation to clinch the victory. Muskegon carried a 2-0 advantage into the third period only to watch the younger version of the NTDP score three unanswered in the opening 9:09 of the final frame. But defenseman Mark Yanis netted a shorthanded goal with 6:37 left to set up Lomberg's heroics, in which the Jacks' leading scorer stole the puck at the National Team blue line and slipped a backhand through Hunter Miska's legs to send L.C. Walker Arena into complete bedlam.
No. 1: March 24, 2012 - MUSKEGON 4, Green Bay 3 (SO)
When you beat one of the best teams in USHL history, it's gotta be high on the list. This game, Muskegon's final win of the campaign, jumps off the page for multiple reasons. First, the Jacks earned just their third win of the year after the opponent opened the scoring, as the Anderson Cup-winning Gamblers did less than five minutes in. In addition, the Black and Gold won the special teams battle against powerful Green Bay, killing all six Gamblers power plays (including a pair late with the score tied) while scoring once in three tries on the man advantage. Finally, the Jacks got the best of goalie Ryan McKay in the shootout, with Bengtsson scoring the decider after Keeney denied all four Green Bay shooters. Also of note, Walsh scored a goal playing at forward, one of two he got late in the season while skating up front.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter (@MuskegonJacks) if I missed your favorite game of the season. As always, thanks for your support of the Muskegon Lumberjacks!