MUSKEGON, MI - Hockey was back in Muskegon Friday night.
So was winning.
The United States Hockey League-leading Muskegon Lumberjacks, who last played a home game on December 8, last played a game of any kind nine days ago and last won a game two weeks ago, swarmed over the ice at L.C. Walker Arena for much of their 60 minutes in a 5-2 win over Madison in front of 3,233 fans.
In doing so the Lumberjacks stopped their losing skid at two games and increased their lead over rival Chicago in the Eastern Conference to 12 points. (43-31).
Muskegon raced out to a 2-0 advantage through 20 minutes, but the Capitols settled in from there behind a herculean effort from goalie Joseph Lamoreaux, who faced 45 Muskegon shots and stopped 41 of them. He even turned aside a penalty shot from Egor Afanasyev midway through the second period.
The Lumberjacks though tallied three times in the final frame, including two from James McIsaac in the final four minutes.
A fully functional Mikael Hakkarainen was back to normal, scoring twice and nearly netting a hat trick into the empty net on a shot which was last touched by McIsaac with 18:37 to play.
Hakkarainen's second goal of the game proved to be the game-winner, and was the result of he and Igor Larionov playing to their strengths.
Larionov deftly set up the goal with a nifty pass, and Hakkarainen skated smoothly to his left before firing a forehand against the grain to the far side of the net past Lamoreaux at the 9:55 mark of the third period.
The goal made it 3-1, and came at an opportune time as Madison's Josh Boyer connected for a power play goal less than a minute later.
The Capitols would go back on the power play with 4:13 left in regulation with a golden opportunity to tie the score, but Lamoreaux misplayed the puck and Oliver MacDonald passed it to McIsaac for the insurance goal.
Madison was still skating with the man advantage and pulled Lamoreaux for an extra skater, but Cam McDonald, Hakkarainen and McIsaac teamed up for the empty netter that insured the Lumberjacks would pick up win No. 21.
Hakkarainen got the Lumberjacks on the board first via the power play. He connected at 14:09 of the first with the assists going to Colby Bukes and Nash Nienhuis. Afanasyev scored his team-leading 14th goal of the season with 40 seconds left in the period as Danil Gushchin and Matthew Staudacher picked up the helpers.
Muskegon dominated the first two periods on the shot clock, as the hosts outshot Madison 19-7 in the first period and 14-9 in the second stanza.
The Capitols tested Muskegon goalie Brandon Bussi with 18 third-period shots in an effort to mount a comeback, however. Bussi only allowed one of those 18 to find the net, though, and made 32 saves overall to pick up his 21st win of the campaign.
Muskegon went 1-for-6 on the power play. Madison went 1-for-4.
The two teams tango again Saturday night at L.C. Walker Arena. Game time is 7:15.
The Lumberjacks also play at home on Monday, as they usher in the new year with a special 8:15 p.m. start time against Chicago with a New Year's Eve party to follow.
To view the complete USHL standings, click here.