MUSKEGON, MI – What a difference a night can make in the United States Hockey League.
Friday night Muskegon visited Chicago and the Lumberjacks couldn’t get much going against the host Steel in a 6-1 loss to the second-place team in the East.
Saturday night the Lumberjacks returned home to the friendly confines of L.C. Walker Arena, and 3,283 fans watched as they jumped out to a 5-1 lead over Sioux Falls before coasting to a 5-3 win over one of the better teams in the Western Conference.
“We played a good game,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. “It was a good effort all across the board. I don’t think we were bad (Friday night), we just finished our chances a lot better (Saturday night).
The Lumberjacks posted their 31st win of the season and recorded points 64 and 65 as they built their lead in the East back up to 10 points, as the Steel lost Saturday.
Sioux Falls, which had won eight out of 10, drops its second straight combined with the loss to Team USA U18 Friday and remains at 56 points.
Muskegon scored twice in the first 7:37 of the game Saturday to take control early.
Nolan Sullivan scored his 15th of the season at 3:41 from Max Ellis and Declan Carlile, and Ellis notched his 11th of the season nearly four minutes later with the hosts enjoying a power play. Colby Bukes drew the lone assist.
Max Crozier recorded a power-play tally of his own to draw the Stampede to within one four minutes later, and appeared to have tied it up at 2-all late in the period, but a video review determined a kicking motion led to the puck entering the net, so the goal was overturned.
The Lumberjacks went on to score the next three goals, including a shorthanded marker from Nash Nienhuis 53 seconds into the second period, to effectively put the game away.
Muskegon went 1-for-4 on the power play officially, and also added a 4-on-4 tally along with the shorty and killing off 3-of-4 Sioux Falls chances.
“Our special teams were really good,” Hamilton said. “It’s something that we needed because we had a depleted lineup tonight with guys out with injuries. It’s just something you have to deal with when you play a long season and multiple games in a row, and we had numerous guys step up.”
Egor Afanasyev (21) and Alex Gaffney (11) also scored for the Lumberjacks, who host the Stampede again Sunday afternoon at 3:15 p.m. to conclude their two-game season series.
Ryan McInchak started between the pipes for the Lumberjacks and earned the win, as he stopped 29 of 32 Sioux Falls shots. Brian Chambers and Blake Bride scored third-period goals for the guests to make the scoreboard look a lot closer.
Jaxson Stauber took the loss for the Stampede, as he allowed five goals on 29 shots.
All three stars of the game went to Lumberjack defenseman. Alex Yakovenko recorded two assists to get the first star, Colby Bukes also posted two assists for the second star and Nienhuis, whose goal was his second of the season, was named the third star.
“The blue line was just solid tonight,” Hamilton said. “They got a couple goals late, but other than that our defenseman really played a good game.”
Bukes and Afanasyev each turned in a rating of +3 to lead the Lumberjacks, who will play their third game in three days Sunday.
Afanasyev, Ellis and Sullivan all recorded two points in addition to Bukes and Yakovenko.
For the complete United States Hockey League standings, click here.