CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA – The Muskegon Lumberjacks avoided getting swept in a weekend set for the first time this season by the thinnest of margins Saturday.
One night after falling 4-1 at Cedar Rapids, the Lumberjacks trailed by a goal twice in the first period but rallied each time to sneak past the host RoughRiders.
Muskegon needed a shootout, but it got the win 4-3 to get two points out of the two-game set in Iowa.
Alex Yakovenko proved to be the shootout hero. The talented defenseman shot first for the Lumberjacks and buried his chance.
Muskegon goalie Brandon Bussi did the rest. He stopped all three shots he faced to improve to 2-0 in shootouts this season and secure the victory for his team Saturday.
The Lumberjacks increased their lead over Chicago back up to 14 points thanks to the win and the Steel’s 6-4 loss to Central Illinois.
Cedar Rapids lost for the second time this season in the shootout but picked up a point to move up to 32 points.
“It was an exciting weekend,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. “That’s a really good team over there.”
The RoughRiders claimed three of four possible points in the weekend behind goalie Blake Pietila, who made 25 saves through regulation and overtime in the loss Saturday.
Grant Silianoff and Jason Polin put Cedar Rapids in good position to get the sweep with a power play goal and shorthanded goal, respectively, in the first period.
Muskegon responded each time, however.
Bobby Lynch responded 3:10 after Silianoff’s goal with his 13th of the season, from Igor Larionov and Brock Bremer, to knot the score at 1-all.
Mikael Hakkarainen tallied on the man advantage 2:50 into the second period, with assists to Larionov and Colby Bukes, to tie it up again for the Lumberjacks. Bremer gave the Lumberjacks their first lead of the contest just 50 seconds later. Alex Gaffney and Yakovenko drew the helpers.
“Overall the whole day our guys responded,” Hamilton said. “(Friday) wasn’t our greatest game, but at the end of the day we competed, because when you look at all the categories we carried them all, (Pietila) was just special.
“We got some more traffic in front and took away his eyes on the two goals. It was what we needed to do to beat ‘em.”
Muskegon’s lead would be short-lived, however, as Aidan McDonough found net for the RoughRiders 1:47 later.
That’s how things remained for the next 34-plus minutes though, as Bussi and Pietila dug in and refused to be beaten.
All that meant the shootout was needed, and Yakovenko and Bussi were up to the task to send the Lumberjacks home to Muskegon with two points.
“We do shootout every pregame skate, and Yako and Larionov always win,” Hamilton said. “At this point the ice was not good, it was in bad condition, and we talked about keeping it simple. Yako got Pietela to give him the far side and he buried it.”
The penalty box was filled non-stop for the second straight game. Muskegon went 1-for-6 on its power plays and managed to kill seven of Cedar Rapids’ power plays, including one in overtime.
Hamilton and the Lumberjacks will go their separate ways after the game. Hamilton will bus over to Lincoln, Nebraska to lead the East in the 2019 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Tuesday, while most of the Lumberjacks head back to Muskegon to prepare for a two-game homestand Saturday and Sunday against Youngstown and Central Illinois, respectively.
Saturday’s game is Star Wars Night at L.C. Walker Arena. Don’t forget to contact the Arena Box Office to be a part of the fun.
For the complete USHL standings, click here.