PLYMOUTH - The National Team Development Program U17 team had the Muskegon Lumberjacks right where they wanted them, or so they thought.
Team USA outshot the unbeaten Lumberjacks 16-5 in the second period to tie the game at 2-all at USA Hockey Arena, and had a lengthy 2-man advantage all teed up and ready to go to start the third period.
But what worked for Muskegon through seven games proved to be the right formula in its eighth straight win to start the season. Goaltender Brandon Bussi stood tall on the extended Team USA power play and allowed his teammates to gather themselves in a big way in the final 20 minutes.
The Lumberjacks exploded for five goals to win going away 7-2 and extend their franchise-best start to the season.
"It was a huge penalty kill to start the period," Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. "We blocked three or four shots, and the effort really energized the boys. It was almost like we scored a goal, and I thought we went out and won the next 10-12 shifts."
Alex Gaffney found himself all alone in the left circle and buried a hard slapshot past Team USA goalie Drew Commesso 25 seconds after regaining full strength to give Muskegon a 3-2 lead. Mikael Hakkarainen and Oliver MacDonald drew the assists.
Just 1:09 later Bobby Lynch continued his torrid scoring pace with another goal from Colby Bukes and Egor Afanasyev.
The Lumberjacks poured it on in the final six minutes, scoring three goals. Danil Gushchin essentially put the game away with 5:55 to play on assists from Hakkarainen and Christoffer Bjorke, Alex Yakovenko tallied an empty net goal with 2:18 left and Cam Knuble scored his first goal of the season from Brock Bremer with 36 seconds left.
It looked like Muskegon would sail to 8-0 through the first 20 minutes.
Oliver MacDonald scored his first goal of the season 4:24 into the game and Brock Bremer made it 2-0 at 9:05 on assists from Matthew Staudacher and Cam McDonald for Muskegon, which outshot the hosts 15-13 in the first period.
The Lumberjacks even earned a power play early in the second period, but that's where Team USA caught fire. Luke Tuch connected for a shorthanded goal at 1:43, 18 seconds into the Lumberjack man advantage, on as assist from Jacob Truscott.
It proved to be the catalyst for a big Team USA second period. They outshot Muskegon 16-5 and evened the score at 7:04 on a goal from Ty Smilanic. Jake Sanderson and Matthew Beniers drew the helpers.
"I thought we came unraveled and undisciplined," Hamilton said of the second period. "The zamboni couldn't come fast enough for us. It was nice to see the guys respond and play well, but it was disappointing we played so poorly in the period."
The Lumberjacks regrouped in a big way, however, thanks to a big effort from Bussi to start the third period. He made several good saves and stopped 38 of 40 Team USA shots. Commesso faced 37 shots and stopped 31 of them.
Muskegon, which killed off all six man advantages but finished 0-for-3 on its own power plays Friday, can now turn its full attention to the talented Team USA U18 squad, which visits L.C. Walker Arena Saturday at 7:15.