PLYMOUTH, MI- Of Head Coach Mike Hamilton’s 92 career wins, tonight’s may have been the most nail-biting. The Muskegon Lumberjacks and Team USA U18 went toe to toe Wednesday, with Muskegon outlasting Team USA in a shootout, 5-4.
Hamilton’s 92nd win ties a franchise record held by Todd Krygier.
“Today’s game was a great team effort,” said Hamilton. “We stuck with it and found a way to come away with a win.”
“At the end of it, it’s pretty cool to reach that milestone and tie a great coach like Todd Krygier. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a team effort. I have an incredible staff and a great hockey team supporting me.”
The win puts Muskegon four points clear of third-place Green Bay and the Jacks’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot has been trimmed to eight. The Lumberjacks remain the USHL’s hottest team, having won 12 of their last 14.
Muskegon got out to a strong start in the first period, taking an early lead on a Dylan Wendt wrister that beat USA goaltender Gibson Homer upstairs.
Muskegon extended the lead to 2-0 later in the first when Cam Berg tipped an Alex Gagne shot past Homer.
Team USA U18 outshot Muskegon 12-8 in the frame, but Jacks goalie Nate Reid was in the zone, stopping all 12 offerings.
Reid’s strong play continued early in the second, but the U18s would finally crack him when Logan Cooley scored on a partial breakaway 2:42 into the second.
Berg answered immediately, roofing his second of the game just ten seconds later to restore the two-goal lead for Muskegon.
Reid would make several more dazzling saves, but Team USA scored a power-play goal after a loose puck netfront bounded right to the stock of an open Jack Devine. Devine potted it into the yawing cage to get Team USA within one, 3-2.
In the second period’s final minute, Rutger McGroarty tied the game, slipping a backhander under the glove of Reid on a partial breakaway.
Team USA scored their third unanswered at the midway point of the third when Ty Gallagher set up Isaac Howard and Chaz Lucius on a 2-on-0. Howard found Lucius on the back door, and Lucius notched the tap-in to give USA the 4-3 lead.
Muskegon fought back to tie the game with less than seven minutes to play, getting a power-play goal from Jack Williams. Williams located a rebound at the front and stuffed it past Homer to knot things up late.
Neither Reid nor Homer would allow anything further, and the game remained tied at four at the end of regulation.
Muskegon would get a 4-on-3 power play early in the overtime period, but Homer and the Team USA penalty kill came up with a big kill to stay alive. Arguably the best chance of overtime came in the final seconds when Lucius stormed in on goal, but Reid closed the door to send the game to a shootout.
In the shootout, Reid made two big saves, thwarting both USA shooters, while Danil Gushchin undressed Homer and netted a shootout goal, setting up Nick Portz’s game-winner in the top of the third shootout inning.
Muskegon goals: Wendt (14), Berg (23,24), Williams (15)
Muskegon assists: Davis Pennington (24,25), Gagne (22), Wendt (24), Kyle Aucoin (6), Jacob Guevin (26), Portz (17)