An injury to captain Fred West created a hole in the Cleveland Junior Lumberjacks lineup. Scott Cuthrell raced right through that opening to the North American 3 Hockey League scoring title.
As the Lumberjacks head to Chicago for the Silver Cup Championship, Cuthrell is also leading the league in playoff scoring.
Cuthrell, a junior hockey rookie after completing a four-year high school career at Waterford Mott, Mich., moved from wing to center when West left the lineup. It was a chance he had been waiting for all season, with the feeling that center was his natural position after spending all his previous time in the sport there.
“I knew that playing center would give me an opportunity to get pucks with a lot of speed going through open ice and give me a chance to create more plays, especially in the offensive zone on rushes,” Cuthrell said. “I expected to put up better numbers than I did as a wing.”
Cuthrell did just that. He scored goals in the final 20 games of the regular season, 19 of the games coming after the move to center. He had a pair of five-goal games while piling up 35 goals and 12 assists in that stretch.
For the season, Cuthrell ended up first in the NA3HL in goals (47), points (88) and plus-minus (plus-48) in 46 games.
In three playoff games, he has added three more goals, including two game-winners, and five assists. The goal-scoring streak finally ended at 22 games with a two-assist effort in a 10-1 rout of the Toledo Cherokee to complete a three-game, first-round playoff sweep.
“West being hurt made other people step up to replace him,” 13th-year coach Bob Jacobson said.
West is back in action and the Lumberjacks are playing some of their best hockey ever.
A program that has qualified for two national tournaments and five league finals will pursue its first NA3HL title along with five other teams when it arrives in Chicago. The East Division champions set a franchise record with 38 wins.
Cleveland has won 10 of its last 11.
“Our team’s rolling pretty good right now,” Cuthrell said. “All the lines are contributing and it looks like we’re playing the best hockey we can going into this last stretch.”
Cuthrell is a big part of that.
He was an all-state selection after finishing second in Michigan in high school scoring last season. Jacobson had high hopes for Cuthrell but worked him into his role slowly.
“Since about the first of November, he’s taken off and he’s pretty much dominating right now,” Jacobson said. “He’s playing a complete game. He goes to the net and scores on rebounds. He uses his speed to get outside defensemen.
“He and his linemates are sharing the puck beautifully.”
When needed, Cuthrell moved into West’s spot centering Andrew Mitch and Nick Balavich. West now centers Dallas Szustak and Mike Palasics. All six have scored at least four points in three playoff games to rank tied for 11th or higher in the league playoff scoring race.
“Right now, we’ve got talent spread out over four lines,” Jacobson said.
With Cuthrell and West combining to lead the way, the Lumberjacks are a threat to make another trip to nationals.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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