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 Muskegon Lumberjacks

Muskegon to Milwaukee

May 23, 2024 - United States Hockey League (USHL)
Muskegon Lumberjacks News Release

MUSKEGON, MI - The USHL has been a leader in developing players to reach their full potential, and since the team's inception in 2010, the Muskegon Lumberjacks have led that charge. Egor Afanasyev (2017-2019) and Marc Del Gaizo (2015-2018) don't just represent the benefits of developing in the USHL but are doing it together as members of the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.

Both players were selected in the 2019 NHL draft by the Nashville Predators. Afanasyev, a second-round selection was drafted straight out of Muskegon after two years as a Lumberjack while Del Gaizo was taken in the fourth round after winning an NCAA DI National Championship at UMass Amherst.

Following game 3 of the 2024 Calder Cup Playoffs Central Division Finals between the Admirals and Grand Rapids Griffins Afanasyev and Del Gaizo spoke about their experiences playing for Muskegon in the USHL.

"When you go to the USHL you're in a pool of the best American and Canadian skaters in the country so to be able to have success at that level gave me the confidence to receive a commitment and do well there." Said Del Gaizo.

A native of Basking Ridge, NJ Del Gaizo joined his brother in Muskegon and immediately had an impact in the lineup. His rookie season in 2016-2017 featured 23 points from the blue line, and a run through the Clark Cup Playoffs. Del Gaizo followed up the next season with 38 points, and another run through the playoffs. Del Gaizo continued, "All of the learning experiences from playing juniors in Muskegon help propel you to the next level".

Following his time in a Lumberjacks uniform Del Gaizo along with his brother, and fellow Lumberjacks Bobby Kaiser and Ty Farmer made the move to college where they won a National Championship with the UMass Minutemen.

"It was really cool. We all went in together as roommates and it's great to have some familiar faces in the locker room there, but also here with Egor, Devin Cooley, and Jachym Kondelik. It's funny how we are all in the same shoes now. You probably wouldn't have thought that when we were playing in Muskegon." He finished.

Since joining the Admirals at the start of the 2021-2022 season Del Gaizo has been a steady presence on their back end with a consistent growth in points, finishing this season with 34 in 60 games, and with a +18 rating. His strong play was recognized by the Nashville leadership and was called up to make his NHL debut on November 4th, 2023, against the Edmonton Oilers picking up another 8 games afterwards before returning to Milwaukee.

Del Gaizo's running mate this season in Milwaukee, and fellow Lumberjack Afanasyev also spoke very highly about his time in Muskegon. "Muskegon is one of my best memories. It's awesome seeing them on social media and watching them succeed." He said.

Afanasyev's first season in Muskegon (2017-2018) saw him pick up 14 points in 45 games played, but it was his second season that set him apart. With 62 points in 58 games Afanasyev led the Jacks to an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. His strong play earned him a second-round selection by the Nashville Predators that summer at the 2019 NHL Draft.

"We had a really good team that year, and coach (Mike) Hamilton gave me a lot of really good opportunities on the power play with my teammates setting me up." Afanasyev's 62 points ranked first among Lumberjacks, as well as players in the NHL draft eligible 2001 birth year class.

The story of Afanasyev's career in Muskegon sounds familiar to Jacks fans that have been following along the past two seasons and current forward in Muskegon Matvei Gridin. After a slow start last season Gridin has seen his production skyrocket for the Jacks during his draft season to the tune of 83 points to lead the USHL.

When asked about what advice he would give to Matvei as he prepares for the NHL after playing in Muskegon Afanasyev said "Just keep playing your game, and keep having that confidence." A simple, but important message.

Afanasyev is also in his third season with the Admirals, and has also seen his production grow to the tune of 54 points in 56 games this season on an even 27 goals, and 27 assists. Similar to Del Gaizo, Afanasyev has attracted the attention of the Nashville front office and made his NHL debut during the 2022-2023 season on March 11th, 2023, and has appeared in 18 NHL games since then.

Del Gaizo and Afanasyev returned to Western Michigan in a big way on Wednesday for game three of the Central Division Finals. Del Gaizo looked strong on the back end while Afanasyev put on a show in the offensive zone with a hat trick including the overtime winning goal. The Admirals now lead the Griffins 2-1 in the best of 5 series. Game 4 comes Friday night at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids.

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United States Hockey League Stories from May 23, 2024

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