MUSKEGON, MI – Two weary teams battled to the final horn at Muskegon’s L.C. Walker Arena Sunday.
Both the host Lumberjacks and the Sioux Falls Stampede played their third game in three days, with the Sunday matinee being the second straight against each other.
Muskegon took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission, but it was Sioux Falls which rallied for its first win of the weekend 3-2 behind a pair of third-period goals.
The shorthanded Lumberjacks won Saturday night against the Stampede and finished the weekend 1-2, with a loss at Chicago on Friday also in the mix.
“We were missing a lot of firepower, so we knew it was going to be a close game,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. “The guys played hard. We had an opportunity to win the game, but we made a couple of mistakes in the end and it cost us.”
The Lumberjacks still own a 10-point lead over the Steel in the Eastern Conference, although the Steel have two games in hand.
Muskegon went 0-for-5 on the power play, highlighting the fact they still have several key players out of the lineup.
Artem Ivanyuzhenkov lit the lamp just 1:40 into the contest to give the Stampede their first lead of the weekend. It was the team-leading 21st goal of the season for Avanyuzhenkov, who only played 6:21 of the first meeting because of a game misconduct after a major elbowing penalty.
The Lumberjacks answered quickly though, as Andrej Kollar scored his first USHL goal at 3:20 with assists going to Cam Knuble and Colby Bukes. Bukes just keeps racking up points to add to his career best points total as a defenseman with the Lumberjacks.
Alex Gaffney gave the hosts their first lead of the game at 18:13 of the first period, with the assist going to Danil Gushchin.
Neither team found the net in a choppy second period which was dominated by six minor penalties, three by each team.
Anthony Romano knotted the game at 2-all 4:31 into the third period to set up an exciting finish.
“The guys played hard,” Hamilton said. “They’re being tested right now. We circled this part of the calendar as one where we’d have to hang tough. I think all things considered they’re doing great, I just wish I’d see a little better push from our guys in the third period.”
Muskegon came extremely close to taking the lead with about five and a half minutes to play in the game, but Kollar’s bid for his second goal of the game and the season rang off the post.
About 18 seconds later on Sioux Fall’s next rush down the ice they scored the eventual game-winning goal. Yan Kuznetsov’s shot was saved by Muskegon goalie Ryan McInchak, but the rebound hung around and Cade Borchardt got to it first for a relatively easy goal.
Gushchin also hit the post shortly thereafter, but nothing else beat Stampede goalie Alec Calvaruso, who stopped 25 of 27 shots to get the win.
The Lumberjacks fell to 21-3-1 when leading after one period of play.
McInchak, who got the start and win on Saturday night, got the start again Sunday and made 29 saves on 32 Stampede shots. Despite the solid effort McInchak suffered his first loss of the season and fell to 6-1.
“I thought Ryan played well Saturday and deserved another start,” Hamilton said. “It would have went the same way for (Brandon) Bussi if he had won Saturday.”
The Lumberjacks will look to rebound quickly, as they will play on three straight days again beginning Thursday at Central Illinois, continuing in Plymouth Friday against the Team USA U17’s and concluding at home Saturday against Madison.
For the complete USHL standings, click here.