MUSKEGON - The talented Team USA U18 squad proved to be streak busters Saturday.
The Muskegon Lumberjacks rode a franchise-best eight-game winning streak to start the season into the showdown with the NTDP squad, but could not overcome their opponents' skill to get No. 9.
Team USA outscored the Lumberjacks 6-1 in the final 40 minutes to hand the Lumberjacks their first loss of the season, 8-3, in front of nearly 3,000 excited fans on Police & Fire Night.
The guests took a 5-3 lead through two periods, then scored another goal just 17 seconds into the third period to dampen the hosts' spirits.
Muskegon (8-1) tried to rally, even pulling its goalie on the power play with over five minutes to play, but could pull no closer.
The Lumberjacks still lead the USHL's Eastern Conference with 16 points. Team USA stands at 4-4-0-1 with one shootout loss.
Cole Caufield was the catalyst for Team USA, scoring three goals on six shots. Henry Thrun, Matthew Boldy, Trevor Zegras, Ryder Rolston and John Beecher also scored for the U18's. Zegras added three assists for a 4-point night.
Muskegon had its moments Saturday. Just not enough of them.
Hunter Skinner connected with Bobby Lynch on a beautiful stretch pass to send Lynch in on a breakaway. Lynch buried the shot at 6:10 of the first for a 1-0 Lumberjacks lead.
After Thrun tied it at 1-all three minutes later, Owen Farris and James McIsaac executed a pretty 2-on-1 thanks to good hustle from Farris, who tallied the go-ahead goal at 11:07 of the first.
Team USA tied it up once again more than three minutes, later, then took its first lead of the game 7:26 into the second period via the power play.
This time the Lumberjacks would answer in a hurry. Captain Nolan Sullivan deftly lifted a backhand from the slot into the top shelf of the net after Cam Knuble's initial shot was blocked for a 3-all game nearing the midpoint of the contest.
That was the last highlight of the night for the Lumberjacks, however.
Caufield struck again on the power play at the 10:25 mark for the game-winning goal, and thereafter it seemed every time the Lumberjacks left a Team USA player alone they made them pay.
"I thought we were poor at picking up guys without the puck," Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. "We took too many undisciplined penalties. We were doing pretty good at 3-3 and took an undisciplined penalty and they score, then we take another one and they score again.
"We'll learn from this one and be better the next time."
Muskegon will get another shot at the U18's Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
Team USA went 2-for-7 on the power play. Muskegon went 0-for-6 and outshot the guests 33-30.
Brandon Bussi also suffered his first loss in goal for the Lumberjacks. After he gave up his fourth goal on 16 Team USA shots Hamilton replaced him with Keegan Karki, who made his season debut and gave up three goals on 13 shots.
Spencer Knight earned the victory for Team USA. He made 30 saves.