MUSKEGON, MI – Muskegon Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton knows how tough it is to win in the USHL, so his team never takes winning for granted.
Muskegon faced a bit of a new challenge Saturday in its effort to complete a sweep of its two-game home series against Central Illinois: lack of bodies.
A myriad of Lumberjacks were unavailable for the game for a variety of reasons, so that they only dressed 16 skaters instead of the normal allotment of 19.
Despite the handicap Muskegon did indeed capture its second game of the weekend 5-2 over a Central Illinois team desperate to get points anywhere in order to move up into a playoff position.
“I always say winning is not easy in this league, so a sweep in this league is pretty special,” said Hamilton, whose team improves to 30-9-2-1. “It was a pretty good weekend for us.”
The weekend also included a 4-3 win on Friday over the Flying Aces, who remain at 37 points and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Muskegon now has 63 points, 10 better than second-place Chicago in the East. Muskegon gained two points on the rival Steel Friday, but did not gain any ground Saturday since the Steel rebounded with a win at Sioux City.
The Lumberjacks started fast in both games this weekend.
The hosts jumped out to a 1-0 lead at the 11:34 mark of the first period. Alex Gaffney’s 10th of the season didn’t technically count as a power-play goal, but it was essentially the same thing since it occurred during a 6-on-5 situation because of a delayed penalty call.
The special weekend continued for reigning USHL Defenseman of the Week Alex Yakovenko, whose 17th goal of the season at the 3:38 mark of the second period set a Lumberjacks single-season record for goals in a season. It was also one of the prettiest goals you’ll ever see, the goal resulting from a nifty deke.
Central Illinois rallied with a couple of power-play goals in the second period off the sticks of Connor Mayer and Trevor Janicke at 12:44 and 16:46, respectively, to tie the game at 2-all through 20 minutes.
Ryan Savage regained the lead for the hosts four minutes into the final frame, and Max Ellis and Egor Afanasyev added insurance tallies later in the period.
Five different players scored goals, and six different players recorded assists, but no Lumberjack had both a goal and an assist.
Bobby Lynch and Oliver MacDonald were the only two Muskegon players to tally multiple points, as each had two assists.
“It was a great effort across the board,” Hamilton said. “We played really well in the first and third periods. In the second we were a little undisciplined, none of those penalties were really needed in my opinion.
“The good news though is we got back to our style of play, and we were able to finish strong to get the win.”
Muskegon outshot the guests 34-30 but went 0-for-4 on the power play. Ryan McInchak started in net for Muskegon and earned the win with 28 saves. Ryan Snowden took the loss for the Flying Aces, who converted two of their three power plays.
For the complete USHL standings, click here.