MUSKEGON, MI – It was a Jekyl and Hyde kind of weekend for the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
And since they were upended Saturday with a lopsided score, that means Sunday turned out exactly the opposite.
One night after a 5-1 loss, Muskegon responded in a big way with a rout of Central Illinois by a 6-1 count.
The Lumberjacks got four goals from their defenseman and some pretty passing plays from their many skilled forwards as they won going away with one goal in the first, two in the second and three in the third period.
Ryan McInchak also had a big day for Muskegon, which improves to 25-7-1 and reestablishes its 12-point lead over second-place Chicago in the Eastern Conference.
McInchak recorded his second win in as many starts as he stopped 38 of 39 Flying Aces shots.
“Ryan played really well,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. “He does it in practice all the time, but it’s hard to give him the opportunities when Brandon Bussi has been playing so well.
“He got a chance in relief (Saturday night), and he played really well so we talked about it and decided to give him another opportunity. He made a couple of saves he shouldn’t have and all of the ones he should have. He did well, I’m proud of him. I loved his competitiveness.”
Central Illinois (15-15-2-1) outshot the Lumberjacks in every period and 39-26 overall, but just has the Lumberjacks showed Saturday that doesn’t always mean good things will happen.
“It definitely felt like a reversal of last night,” Hamilton said. “We outshot (the Phantoms) last night but got nothing to show for it. Tonight Central Illinois outshot us but everything went well for us.
“It was a good bounce back game for us. I’m excited to see the way the guys responded.”
Alex Yakovenko led the way for Muskegon’s defense offensively with a pair of goals, his ninth and tenth of the season.
Yakovenko’s first was much-needed for the Lumberjacks, as his power play goal at the 17:41 of the first period gave his team their first lead of the weekend. Danil Gushchin and Mikael Hakkarainen drew the assists.
It took just 1:15 in the second period for Muskegon to strike again. Cam McDonald scored his second of the season from Egor Afanasyev to give the hosts a two-goal lead. Afanasyev scored his team-leading 17th of the season late in the second for what proved to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead. Zachary Nazzarett got his first assist as a Muskegon Lumberjack on the play.
Yakovenko and Igor Larionov scored in the first five minutes of the third period to chase Flying Aces goalie Mitchell Gibson. Larionov’s was a thing of beauty as Hakkarainen made a nifty move to the right of the goal and passed it across the slot to Larionov for the slam dunk into the open net.
“As the game went on we got some good clean entries,” Hamilton said. “We’d kill off a lot of penalties, then come back fresh with our top line and they took advantage of it. It was a good team game.”
The Lumberjacks killed off six of seven Central Illinois power plays and scored on one of their three man advantages.
Joseph Dunlap scored a power-play goal midway through the third period to spoil McInchak’s shutout bid.
Muskegon defenseman Colby Bukes finished off the scoring with a little more than two minutes remaining in the game
Muskegon can now turn its attention to a huge trip to Western Conference-leading Tri-City next weekend.
For the complete USHL standings, click here.