BLOOMINGTON, ILL - Once the Muskegon Lumberjacks split with Youngstown Friday and Saturday, they became big Meatloaf fans Sunday.
In other words, they considered "2-out-of-3" not bad at all.
A perfect 3-0 3-game weekend would have been ideal for the top team in the United States Hockey League, but the Lumberjacks made the best of a tough situation by taking the third game 5-1 over the Central Illinois Flying Aces.
Muskegon hit the road shortly after falling 4-3 Saturday, and arrived in Bloomington in the wee hours of the morning Sunday for its third game in three days.
But the Lumberjacks fought through tired legs Sunday afternoon against the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, at least points wise, getting the jump on the Flying Aces with three first-period goals.
"We didn't have the energy, but I couldn't be happier with the boys," Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. "It was a great response to (Saturday's loss to Youngstown).
"(Sunday) we played a different style team, and any time you can drive through the night, play a little tired, make late adjustments and still get the 'W' feels great."
Central Illinois scored first, thanks to Jeremy Davidson's sixth of the year midway through the first period, but it didn't take long for the Lumberjacks to respond.
Muskegon earned a power play shortly thereafter, and Colby Bukes connected on the man advantage for his first goal of the season. It came roughly a minute and a half after Davidson's goal.
Brock Bremer notched his fifth of the season just 31 seconds later, and Muskegon led the rest of the way on its way to win No. 12 against just two losses.
Egor Afanasyev recorded his eighth goal of the season nearly five minutes later, and the Lumberjacks led 3-1 through 20 minutes.
James McIsaac was in a helping mood Sunday, contributing four assists on the night and assisting on all three first-period goals.
The final two periods belonged to Muskegon defenseman Alex Yakovenko and goalie Brandon Bussi.
Yakovenko tallied the only goal of the second period, with assists from Nolan Sullivan and Alex Gaffney, to make it 4-1. Muskegon's talented defenseman also scored the only goal of the final period, this time on the power play, for the fifth and final goal.
Bussi, meanwhile, responded with 15 saves on 15 shots over the final two periods. He made 20 stops overall to improve to 12-1 on the season.
Muskegon was missing a few regulars from its lineup Sunday, including the red-hot Mikael Hakkarainen.
It didn't matter, as the Lumberjacks increased their lead over the Flying Aces to six points with two games in hand.
Bukes added an assist to total two points to join McIsaac and Yakovenko in players with multiple points, and eight different Lumberjacks recorded a point.
"We responded with a great team effort," Hamilton said. "It was a gritty and group effort."
The Lumberjacks special teams were special. They connected on 3-of-8 power plays and were 4-for-5 on the penalty kill.
Muskegon will get some well deserved rest this week, with its next game at home Saturday against Cedar Rapids.
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