MUSKEGON, MI - For the second time in six days the Muskegon Lumberjacks tangled with an Eastern Conference rival hot on their heels looking to gain some ground.
And for the second straight game the Lumberjacks turned in a convincing performance to further secure their perch atop the standings.
Muskegon welcomed Cedar Rapids into L.C. Walker Arena Saturday with a six-point lead in the East, and promptly dispatched its closest competitor with little trouble 4-0 in front of a crowd of 2,177.
It was the first game for the Lumberjacks since they overwhelmed Central Illinois 5-1 on the road Sunday to keep them at arms length as well.
Cedar Rapids (8-6-2) started strong and recorded eight of the first 10 shots. Muskegon goalie Brandon Bussi stood tall early again to keep the game scoreless while his teammates figured things out.
The Lumberjacks indeed found their groove with a pair of goals spanning nearly six minutes between the end of the first period and the start of the second.
James McIsaac scored the first goal of the game at 16:40 from Alex Yakovenko and Matthew Staudacher, and the goal proved to be the game-winner.
The hosts kept the pressure on from there, and capitalized on the power play 2:32 into the second period. Alex Gaffney continued his consistent scoring with the tally, assisted by Egor Afanasyev and Cam McDonald.
Yakovenko owned the third period to help the 'Jacks improve to 13-2. He scored an unassisted shorthanded goal on a breakaway early in the third period, and added a power play marker midway through the frame. Bobby Lynch and Afanasyev earned the assists.
Yakovenko resides in second place among defenseman in scoring in the USHL with 16 points in 14 games. He has totaled five goals and 11 assists this season, thanks in part to his 3-point night Saturday.
Bussi notched his league-leading 13th win of the season and earned his third shutout with 23 saves.
Muskegon's special teams were just that Saturday.
The Lumberjacks killed off all seven Cedar Rapids power plays, and converted 2-of-5 man advantages of their own.
Igor Larionov made his Lumberjacks debut. He was held off the scoresheet but did tie Yakovenko and Afanasyev in team-high shots with three.
Muskegon will enjoy a few days off before hosting the Team USA U17s Wednesday and Green Bay back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving.
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