MUSKEGON, MI - The Green Bay Gamblers are the latest United States Hockey League squad to see how tough it is to skate with Muskegon.
Green Bay did as well as most, coming back from an early 3-0 deficit to make things interesting midway through Friday's contest.
But the Lumberjacks scored the final four goals to eventually pull away for an 8-3 win in the first of back-to-back home games against the Gamblers.
"Our goal is always to win the first period and we did that," Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. "Our offense was really good in the first half of the game, but we fell in love with our offense and gave up way too many scoring chances against. Halfway through we got back to playing the style we like and found a way to get it done."
Muskegon won its fourth straight in a physical battle in front of 1,940 fans at L.C. Walker Arena to improve to a league best 15-2 record, good for 30 points.
The two teams combined for 23 penalties for 90 minutes to set up an interesting weekend cap on Saturday, with the puck drop at 7:15 p.m.
The Lumberjacks led just 4-3 Friday when Danil Gushchin struck for an unassisted goal at 15:08 of the second period to grab momentum back for the hosts.
Muskegon then reasserted its dominance in the third period with three more goals, including Alex Yakovenko's power-play marker at 3:31 which boosted the lead back up to three for the first time since the middle of the first period.
Alex Gaffney and James McIsaac scored goals just 25 seconds part with less than six minutes remaining in the contest to put away the Gamblers, who remain in fourth place with 17 points.
It looked early like it might not be a contest after Muskegon struck for goals at 1:01 and 2:45 of the first period thanks to Egor Afanasyev and McIsaac, respectively.
The 2-0 Lumberjacks lead ballooned to 3-0 at 12:39 via Afanasyev's tenth of the season and second of the game.
But the Gamblers did rally to make it a game. Noah Prokop answered Afanayev's goal less than two minutes later to make it 3-1, and Jesse Tucker made it a one-goal game in a little over a minute into the second frame.
Bobby Lynch's power play goal at 5:11 reestablished the two-goal Muskegon lead, but Green Bay again drew within one thanks to Paul Maust's even-strength tally at 8:35.
That would be the last goal for the Gamblers, and neither team would score again until Gushchin's seven minutes later.
"We weren't too happy with the style of play early," Hamilton reiterated. "We tightened things up midway through the game and I think that proved to be the difference."
Hamilton said the Lumberjacks are firing on all cylinders as far as the health of the team except for goalie Keegan Karki.
Brandon Bussi got the start again in net for Muskegon and delivered 28 saves on 31 shots for his 15th win. Xavier Medina played the final 5:53 and made two saves in mop-up duty.
Jake Begley started for Green Bay and took the loss, allowing eight goals on 33 Lumberjacks shots.
Afanasyev added one assist and Lynch added two to help both record three-point nights for the hosts. Hakkarainen recorded two assists in his first game back in a couple weeks, and Yakovenko, McIsaac and Gushchin also had two points apiece.
The Lumberjacks special teams stayed red-hot, as the power-play unit went 2-for-4 and the penalty killers staved off six Green Bay power plays.
For more stats and info visit ushl.com.