CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA – The New Year could not have started any more slowly for the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
The Lumberjacks, who won their final three games of 2018, fell to 0-1 in 2019 with a tough 4-1 road loss Friday to host Cedar Rapids.
The RoughRiders took a 2-0 lead midway through the first period, and the Lumberjacks never recovered.
Muskegon, which falls to 23-6-1, loses by more than one goal for just the second time this season to a team not named Team USA 18U. The other time came in Muskegon two days after Thanksgiving to Green Bay (6-3).
Nate Hanley and Nathan Smith scored 55 seconds apart midway through the first period for Cedar Rapids (14-12-2-1), both at even strength.
Jason Polin scored on the RoughRiders’ two-man advantage 6:21 into the second period, which prompted Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton to pull his starting goalie Brandon Bussi. Nearly 12 minutes later Max Sasson scored another goal for the hosts, who led 4-0 through 40 minutes.
Ryan McInchak held down the fort after that for Muskegon, but his team could only beat Cedar Rapids goalie Blake Pietila once, and that came with less than three minutes left in the game. Egor Afanasyev scored his team-leading 16th of the season from Alex Yakovenko and Mikael Hakkarainen on the power play, but that would be it for the guests.
Pietila recorded 27 saves to pick up the win. Bussi stopped 13 of 16 shots he faced and McInchak made four saves out of five shots.
It was a far cry from the result of the first and only other meeting between the two teams, which the Lumberjacks won 4-0 at home on November 17.
Penalties filled this contest, especially in the second and third periods. Neither team took much advantage of their power plays, however, as both went 1-for-8 with the man advantage.
Cedar Rapids needed a two-skater advantage to score on its power play, while Muskegon couldn’t convert until just one second remained on its second-to-last chance.
The RoughRiders improve their point total to 31 as they battle to get to third place in the Eastern Conference behind Muskegon, which remains at 47 points, and second-place Chicago.
The two teams will face off against each other again Saturday night in Cedar Rapids, with puck drop at 8:05 p.m. EST.
For the complete USHL standings, click here.