BLOOMINGTON, ILL – The Muskegon Lumberjacks sure seem to have Central Illinois’ number.
The Lumberjacks moved to 5-0 against the Flying Aces this season thanks to their 5-1 road win at Grossinger Motors Arena Thursday afternoon.
Muskegon also beat the Flying Aces by the same 5-1 score the first time they met back on November 11, and have outscored them 25-8 on the season.
The Lumberjacks dominated early and late Thursday, scoring twice in the first period and thrice more in the third period to improve to 32-10-2-1, good for 67 points.
“I think we just match up well with them as far as their style of play,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said.
Muskegon built its lead back up to 12 points over Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings in the process. The Steel still have two games in hand.
The Lumberjacks welcomed five players back into the lineup after they missed a handful of games, and the returning players made an impact, even before the game.
“This is a big week for us to get things back on track,” Hamilton said. “It was a good week of practice. The guys had good focus during the week and played well to start us off this weekend.
Mikael Hakkarainen had the biggest impact on the ice, recording four assists to lead all players in points for the game.
Hakkarainen, Egor Afanasyev and Max Ellis clicked well on a line together against Central Illinois (17-24-2-1). Afanasyev tallied two goals and an assist, and Ellis added a goal and two assists for the East-leading Lumberjacks.
“It was good to have all those guys back, and the guys responded,” Hamilton added. “That line was pretty special (Thursday). They played with speed and moved the puck well. When all those guys are going it’s really tough for the opponent to defend. Central Illinois didn’t have a line that could match them.”
Muskegon has yet to shut Central Illinois out this season, but Brandon Bussi came close Thursday.
The Lumberjacks led comfortably 5-0 before Bradley Marek spoiled the shutout with a point-blank shot with just four minutes left in the game.
Muskegon outshot the hosts 11-6 in the opening period, but needed Bussi to respond in the second period as the Flying Aces outshot Muskegon 19-11 in the middle frame. Bussi stopped 33 of 34 shots for the game.
Afanasyev opened the scoring with his team-leading 22nd goal 11:06 into the game on the power play from Hakkarainen and Ellis.
Jagger Joshua built on the momentum with his eighth goal of the season just over a minute later from Cam McDonald and Hakkarainen.
Neither team scored in the middle frame.
Ellis got things going for the guests only 41 seconds into the third period. Afanasyev scored at 6:18 and Bobby Lynch finished Muskegon’s scoring with 16th of the season at 11:21 from Andrej Kollar.
The two teams will meet twice more this season on March 9 and March 30, both at Grossinger Motors Arena.
Muskegon continues its busy weekend Friday night in Plymouth, MI against the Team USA U17 squad. Game time is 7:00 p.m. It returns home to host Madison Saturday night.
For the complete USHL standings, click here.