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Muskegon survives long trip, early deficit to defeat Sioux City 5-4

By Scott Brandenburg, 02/01/19, 11:45PM EST

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Alex Yakovenko, Ryan McInchak and others make key contributions in comeback win

SIOUX CITY, IA – Chalk Friday night’s 5-4 come-from-behind win as one of the best team wins of the season for the Muskegon Lumberjacks.

The game was exciting and featured a little bit of everything and a lot of contributions from many Lumberjacks, who needed almost two full days to reach their destination of Sioux City, Iowa just to play the game.

Ryan McInchak came off the bench to provide a spark in net, defenseman Alex Yakovenko scored two big goals to bring his team back to level, and Danil Gushchin and Nolan Sullivan tallied third-period goals to lift Muskegon to the thrilling 5-4 win over the host Musketeers.

“It was absolutely a great team win,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. “It filled all categories. We got a power play goal, a shorthanded goal, some huge face-off wins down the stretch, and each line contributed in its own way.”

With the win combined with Chicago’s loss to the Team USA U18s, the Lumberjacks increase their lead in the Eastern Conference to 10 points over the Steel. Their 59 points is also just one point behind Western Conference-leader Tri-City in the race for the Anderson Cup.

Even though Muskegon scored first 5:13 into the game via Mikael Hakkarainen’s 14th of the season from Egor Afanasyev, a Muskegon win looked like a tall order after Sioux City scored three straight goals to take a 3-1 lead a little over five minutes into the second period.

But the Lumberjacks scored four straight goals of their own to take a 5-3 lead.

“It was a special win,” Hamilton said. “It was an adventure just to get here, and the guys dug deep and fought through some adversity. It was an impressive effort.”

Yakovenko, the highest-scoring defenseman in the league, played a huge role in the comeback.

He buried a shot past Sioux City goalie Ben Kraws on a good pass from Hakkarainen to draw the Lumberjacks within a goal at 8:25 of the second period. Right after he scored he took a hard check from behind, and on the ensuing 4-on-3 power play Yakovenko scored again exactly a minute later.

“Yako does what Yako does,” Hamilton said. “He’s so good at putting the puck in the back of the net.”

The two teams traded scoring chances but no goals the rest of the period.

It didn’t take long for the Lumberjacks to take control of the game in the third period.

Danil Guschin made a great individual play to cut across the net and beat Kraws 43 seconds into the final period.

The next goal ended up being the biggest of the game, and it came while Muskegon was shorthanded. It came as a result of a good two-man effort between Nolan Sullivan and James McIsaac. Sullivan took a shot which was blockered away by Kraws right to McIsaac, whose sharp-angled shot went wide but right to Sullivan, who fired it into the side of the net for the two-goal lead.

The shorty proved huge because the Musketeers, who are tied for fifth place in the West, were awarded a power play with under three minutes to play in regulation and pulled Kraws to make it a 6-on-4.

They capitalized with a power play goal with 1:11 left to play in regulation off the stick of Matthew Miller to make it 5-4.

Muskegon shut the door from there, with plenty of help from McInchak. He wasn’t tested a ton early on, but he made several big saves and stood tall as Sioux City put on the pressure late.

“Ryan was huge,” Hamilton said. “We put him in to try to turn the tide. Every once in a while we get too dependent on Brandon Bussi.

‘The next three shifts after we put Ryan in we dominated, and (the Musketeers) had to  call timeout. Ryan made key saves for us. He did what a good goalie does, he was ready when his number was called.”

For the complete USHL standings, click here.