YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO – Sunday’s matinee United States Hockey League game between the Muskegon Lumberjacks and Youngstown Phantoms had the feel of yet another overtime game.
The Phantoms held a 1-0 lead since late in the first period, but the Lumberjacks were beginning to exert some serious pressure.
The equalizing goal never materialized though, and host Youngstown claimed a 2-0 win in front of a small crowd at the Covelli Centre to even the weekend series at one apiece.
The Lumberjacks, who fell to 35-12-2-1, did their best to send the game to OT for the second straight game, as they outshot the Phantoms 24-15 in the final two periods.
“I thought in the second and third periods we played really well,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. “It’s one of those where I don’t think we were rewarded for how well we played. We gave ourselves a shot.”
Muskegon outlasted Youngstown in a shootout on Saturday.
The Lumberjacks are now 5-3 against the fourth-place team in the Eastern Conference after two tightly contested games over the weekend.
“I’ll take (a split) any day,” Hamilton said. “They’re a team that’s obviously going to make the playoffs, and we have a good chance of facing them in the second round of the playoffs. Any time you’re in the playoffs and you go on the road and get a split you take it every time.
“Ultimately I think the guys were deserving of more tonight, but we’ll take the split.”
The Lumberjacks touched the reigning USHL Goaltender of the Week Chad Veltri for three goals and two shootout goals Saturday, but Veltri struck back Sunday.
Youngstown’s top goalie posted his third shutout in four games, as he stopped all 31 Muskegon shots.
The Phantoms got all the scoring they would need at the 15:40 mark of the first period. Nikolai Jenson notched his second goal of the season on a screened shot that beat Lumberjacks goalie Brandon Bussi. Joseph Abate drew the only assist.
The game would stay 1-0 all the way until Muskegon lifted Bussi for an extra attacker, but it was the Phantoms who scored the empty-net goal off the stick of Matthew DeMelis with 22 seconds left to secure the win.
Just when the Lumberjacks looked like they were healthy and clicking on all cylinders, a “bug” has started to make its way through the team.
Hamilton said five players were affected this weekend, including Max Ellis and Alex Yakovenko.
“The guys are still a little wore down with all the travel and the amount of games this past month, and now this bug hits us,” Hamilton said. “The guys are still battling through it and playing well.”
Bussi stopped 21 of the 22 shots he faced.
The Lumberjacks have two more road games this weekend before returning home on March 15 and 16. They first travel to Dubuque this Friday, March 8 and Central Illinois March 9.
For the complete USHL standings, click here.