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Muskegon drops first game of season to rival Chicago

By Scott Brandenburg, 02/15/19, 11:30PM EST

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The Lumberjacks had won the previous four games against the Steel, who are in second place in the East behind the Lumberjacks

CHICAGO – No team has been hotter than the Chicago Steel in 2019, and the Steel wanted to prove that to the East leading Muskegon Lumberjacks.

The Steel have been chasing the Lumberjacks all season since the Lumberjacks started the season 8-0 and kept beating them every chance they got, so they were extra motivated Friday night with their nemesis coming into town from West Michigan.

Chicago made the statement it was looking for and then some with a 6-1 win over Muskegon, thanks in large part to stellar special teams play, to finally crack the win column in five chances.

The Steel jumped out to a 4-1 lead through 23 minutes thanks to a 3-for-3 effort on the power play and a shorthanded goal.

“They played well; they’re a very good team,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. “They were very opportunistic with their special teams, and that just killed us.

“We didn’t stick get to the game plan early on. As the game went on we played a lot better, closer to the way we’re supposed to play, and hopefully that will carry over to the rest of the weekend.”

The Lumberjacks see their lead in the East shrink to eight points over Chicago with 19 games to play in the regular season.

The archrivals will play against each other just one more time, on April 13 in Muskegon, a matchup both teams will likely be looking forward to.

But the Lumberjacks have to turn their attentions quickly to another tough opponent in Sioux Falls, which visits West Michigan for Saturday night and Sunday afternoon affairs this weekend.

The lone highlight for the Lumberjacks Friday, at least on the scoreboard, came off the stick of Jagger Joshua.

It took just 20 seconds for Muskegon to answer Chicago’s first goal of the game at 9:35 of the first period when Joshua connected with assists from Alex Yakovenko and Bobby Lynch.

From then on, however, the game belonged to Nick Abruzzese, Robert Mastrosimone, Justin Robbins and the rest of the Steel.

Abruzzese, the reigning USHL Forward of the Week, totaled four points to add to his league-leading point tally with a goal and three assists to move up to 58 points on the season.

Mastrosimone has been just as hot, and he recorded two goals and an assist for Chicago.

Robbins made sure no Lumberjacks rally could begin because he stopped the rest of the shots fired his way. He made 24 saves on the night.

In the other net Brandon Bussi started for Muskegon, but he was pulled in favor of Ryan McInchak after he gave up the shorthanded goal to Chicago’s Cole Quisenberry a few minutes into the second period. Bussi stopped just seven of 11 shots.

McInchak played well in relief, making 11 saves in 13 chances.

The Lumberjacks continue to play without some key players, including Mikael Hakkarainen and Igor Larionov Jr.

They’ll have to regroup quickly, as they host Sioux Falls Saturday night at 7:15 p.m. and then again Sunday at 3:15 p.m.

The Stampede were 7-2-1 in their last 10 games before falling 4-1 to the talented Team USA U18 squad Friday night.

“We knew Chicago and Sioux Falls had been the best teams in the last 15 games, so we knew how tough a weekend this would be, and we’re doing it without some key players,” Hamilton said. “We’re going to have to have some players step up and make the plays.”

Saturday night is Marvel Night, and Sunday afternoon is a University of Michigan-themed game, where the players will wear U-of-M jerseys which will be part of an online auction.

For the complete USHL standings, click here.