Shuart's sudden strike delivers victory
December 18, 2011
Mike McNicholas' equalizer in the final minute set up Max Shuart's OT winner, as the Lumberjacks stole a win away from East rival Indiana Sunday night
by Matt Gajtka
MUSKEGON, Mich. – One night after the Muskegon Lumberjacks lost in the final minute of regulation, they reversed that outcome in the most dramatic way possible.
Mike McNicholas tied the game with 21 seconds left in the third, and Max Shuart followed up with the sudden-death game winner 14 seconds into overtime, propelling the Jacks to an exhilarating 3-2 victory over the Indiana Ice at L.C. Walker Arena.
Sean Kuraly had pushed the visiting Ice ahead 2-1 with 4:30 remaining in regulation, his team-leading 15th goal of the season and second point of the night. The power play tally was Indiana’s second of the night, as Robbie Baillargeon had countered Dean Pawlaczyk’s first-period goal late in the second.
Ryan Lomberg earned the only assist on Pawlaczyk’s first in the USHL, and the rookie forward from Ontario played a critical role in the Lumberjacks’ stunning rally. After Matt DeBlouw won an offensive zone faceoff, Lomberg set up shop behind the Indiana net. His centering pass ticked off Shuart’s stick but found McNicholas, who banged the loose puck past Ice goalie Jon Gillies for his second goal in three games.
Muskegon’s first overtime of the season was extremely short lived, as Jacks netminder John Keeney denied Kuraly to start the extra session, with the rebound caroming to Joseph Cox. The first-year forward from Chelsea, Mich., fed Northville’s Shuart cruising to the top of the left circle. Shuart’s 40-foot wrister fooled Gillies, who entered the game with the league’s best save percentage, triggering a wild celebration on the ice.
Shuart’s sudden strike served as sweet catharsis for the Jacks (9-12-0, 18 points), who stopped a three-game losing streak with the home win. The night’s fun ending was well deserved for Keeney, who for the fourth time in five games faced more than 40 shots. His 44 saves matched a season best, set Dec. 2 in a shutout of the Youngstown Phantoms.
Keeney got in front of 43 shots Saturday night in Ann Arbor and was splendid again Sunday, repeatedly snagging Indiana drives with his glove hand and generally shutting down one of the USHL’s premier offenses.
The California native stopped 16 shots in the first period, and Pawlaczyk converted Lomberg’s expert setup at the left post to give the Jacks a 1-0 lead through 20 minutes for the second night in a row.
Muskegon extinguished Indiana’s first four power plays of the night – the Ice entered the game with the league’s best unit – but the visitors broke through to tie the game 1-1 with 50 second left in the second. Keeney poked the puck off the charging Kuraly’s stick, but it went directly to Baillargeon, who netted his 10th of the year during the man advantage.
Kuraly put the Lumberjacks behind for the first time all evening when he jammed the disc under Keeney’s pads and barely over the goal line during the Ice’s sixth power play opportunity.
The Jacks created their own advantage when they pulled Keeney in favor of an extra skater in the last minute, and for the first time all season they came from behind to win.
Muskegon jumped past Chicago for seventh place in the Eastern Conference with the two points earned Sunday. Indiana will visit again Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 7:15 p.m. as the Lumberjacks return from the USHL’s Christmas break on Carload Night. $40 pays for parking and admission for everyone in your vehicle!
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Call the L.C. Walker Arena box office at 231.724.JACK(5225) for Lumberjacks tickets and information, or visit startickets.com or go to your local Meijer.
The Muskegon Lumberjacks are proud members of the United States Hockey League, the nation’s only Tier I junior hockey league and the leading producer of NCAA players and National Hockey League draft picks in the United States. The Lumberjacks’ organization prides itself on developing not just premier hockey talent, but also exceptional young men outside the arena of sports. For more information, visit muskegonlumberjacks.com.