PLYMOUTH, MI – The Muskegon Lumberjacks always seem to find their offense when they skate with the Team USA U17 squad.
It took them awhile Friday night at USA Hockey Arena, but once they got going the Lumberjacks rattled off seven goals on their way to a 7-3 win over the younger NTDP.
Muskegon improves to 3-0 against the U17s, and has reached seven goals every time. It won 7-2 in the first meeting between the teams on Oct. 26, and won 8-0 in the only home meeting on November 21.
Of course, the Lumberjacks are as healthy as they’ve been in quite some time as well.
“I don’t think it was necessarily who we played because I think we seem to have found ourselves a little bit this weekend,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. “We’ve gotten some important pieces back, and that gives us four lines that can all score, so teams are having a hard time stopping them all.”
The Lumberjacks didn’t get on the scoreboard Friday until the second period, when Mikael Hakkarainen lit the lamp at 1:20 for the 16th time this season. Jagger Joshua and Alex Yakovenko drew the assists.
The guests would go on to get three more in the middle frame, and all came within a five-minute span.
After Brock Faber leveled the score for Team USA at 3:03, Colby Bukes regained the lead for Muskegon at 6:02, from Danil Gushchin and Bobby Lynch.
Hakkarainen scored again three minutes later, this time from Egor Afanasyev, for the first two-goal lead of the game. Joshua scored his ninth of the season exactly two minutes after Hakkarainen’s goal to make it 4-1.
At that point U17 coach Seth Appert decided to make a change in net, so Noah Grannan came in to replace Drew Commesso.
The change seemed to spark Team USA initially, as the hosts rallied to within 4-3 with a goal from Daniyal Dzhaniyev at 15:20 of the second period and Ty Smilanic at 3:40 of the third period.
The Lumberjacks, though, had the answer in the form of three goals in the final 13 minutes of the game.
Afanasyev scored for the second consecutive game this weekend at 7:26, Andrej Kollar tallied his second USHL goal at 13:25 and Igor Larionov Jr. scored his eighth of the season at 15:07 on a gorgeous pass from Lynch to cap the scoring.
Muskegon moves to 2-0 on this three-game weekend and improves to 33-10-2-1 overall, good for 69 points.
“The guys will enjoy this one a little bit,” said Hamilton, whose team returns home to play Madison Saturday at 7:15 p.m. “We’ll get refocused and look to finish the weekend strong.”
Brandon Bussi recorded his second win of the weekend as he made 17 saves on 20 Team USA shots. The Lumberjacks outshot the hosts 33-20 despite not having a power play all game.
Muskegon’s penalty-killing units did the trick Friday, stymieing all three U17 man advantages. Smilanic’s goal came four seconds after their power play expired.
“We’ve put a lot of focus the last week on the penalty kill and the power play,” Hamilton said. “The guys did an effective job of keeping their chances down.”
For the complete USHL standings, click here.