PLYMOUTH, MI - Seeing the familiar black No. 10 sweater back on the ice was a welcome sight to the Muskegon Lumberjacks Wednesday morning.
The scoreboard at USA Hockey Arena, however, was not.
Mikael Hakkarainen returned to game action after missing the previous four games for Muskegon, but it made little difference to the Team USA U18's, who throttled the Lumberjacks 5-1 on their home ice.
The loss, combined with the 1-0 overtime loss to Omaha this past Saturday, means the Lumberjacks have a losing streak for the first time this season.
Hakkarainen, who is third in the USHL in points per game at 1.53, led Muskegon (20-5-1-0) with seven shots on goal. But the only shot able to beat Team USA goalie Cameron Rowe came from the stick of Danil Gushchin midway through the third period.
"I thought Hakk did well, and it was good to have him back," Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. "He's been skating with us but without contact, so I though we were getting half of what he can do for us. I knew he'd help us on the power play with some shots, and I thought he did well.
"It'll be nice to get him fully healthy after the break."
By the time Gushchin scored the Lumberjacks were already down four goals and had replaced starting goalie Brandon Bussi with Ryan McInchak, who was making his Lumberjacks debut.
McInchak replaced Bussi, who stopped 17 of 21 Team USA shots, at the second intermission. He looked good in his 20 minutes on the ice, stopping all 15 of Team USA shots in the third period that he was on the ice. Team USA did get an empty net goal from Matthew Boldy with 2:09 to play.
"I thought (Ryan) showed real well," Hamilton said. "We were excited to get him in there. He's been proving he's capable during practice, and it was good to see him settle in and go perfect in the third."
Bussi falls to 20-3-1 for the season, and gets a well-earned eight days away from game action as the Lumberjacks don't return to the ice until hosting Madison on Friday, Dec. 28.
Team USA improves to 9-9-1-2, good for 21 points.
Muskegon has 41 points, which is still 10 points clear of second-place Chicago in the Eastern Conference but just two points up on Western Conference leader Tri-City.
Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton thought special teams had to be special for his team to win.
But that wasn't the case, as Team USA got on the board first at 8:19 of the first period via the power play. Owen Lindmark notched the goal and Cam York and Henry Thrun drew the assists.
Nearly six minutes later Lindmark was at it again, but this time with the U18's shorthanded. His unassisted goal made it 2-0 for the home team.
It didn't get any better for Muskegon from there. The visitors did prevent any further power play goals for Team USA, which went 1-for-4 on the man advantage, but Muskegon could not dent Rowe in six power play chances.
"These last few weeks have been frustrating from a special teams perspective," Hamilton said. "We're doing plenty of good things but we're not being rewarded for them.
"It's not anything we're going to be overthinking because we are doing some good things, but against good teams like this and as we get further into the season it's going to be very important to get everything dialed in."
Team USA got its even-strength game flowing in the second period. Goals by Matthew Boldy and Sean Farrell at 10:39 and 14:58, respectively, gave the hosts an insurmountable 4-0 lead.
The U18's outshot Muskegon 37-32, despite Muskegon having a 10-6 shot advantage in the opening 20 minutes.
Gushchin was the only Lumberjack to finish with a positive on-ice rating at +1. Bobby Lynch and Nic Belpedio drew the assists.
The Lumberjacks were still shorthanded Wednesday thanks to a stomach bug. Both Egor Afanasyev and Igor Larionov missed the game with an illness.
Don't forget you can give the gift of the Lumberjacks to family and friends with the special Holiday Package 3-game plan. For $39 you can give a reserved (blue) ticket plus a free game program for each of the home games including Dec. 29 vs. Madison, January 13 against Central Illinois and February 9 vs. Central Illinois.
Deadline to purchase the Holiday Package is before the 7:15 p.m. game on Dec. 29. Contact Kaitlyn at (231) 724-5225 x255 or email@example.com to get the tickets today.
To see the complete USHL standings click here.