By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal
The Muskegon Lumberjacks were feeling pretty good about what transpired on the ice in their home opener.
The offense was clicking, the defense was stingy and the goaltending was solid. Add those three factors together and you’ve got a 6-3 victory over Team USA.
“It was a blast,” Lumberjack defenseman Chris Leibinger said.
And it should have been for Leibinger, a native of Saginaw.who popped in a pair of goals in the victory. “I had a lot of fun playing with the guys and it was fun contributing.”
Leibinger appeared in three Lumberjacks’ games a year ago so that did alleviate some of the nerves.
“I wasn’t as nervous as last year, but there are always nerves in your opener.”
Scoring three goals in the opening period went a long way in calming down just about everyone connected with the Lumberjacks.
Chad McDonald, who also scored two goals, opened the scoring with a rather fluky goal. The puck flipped up on the air and landed in the net behind Team USA goaltender Edwin Minney. That goal came 8 minutes into the new season.
Seven minutes later, Tyler Heinonen was alone in the slot and when Joe Cox stole the puck behind the net, it was a quick pass, a quick shot and a 2-0 Muskegon lead.
Before the period would end, Leibinger scored his first of the night on a shot that hit the skate of Team USA forward Alex Tuch and slid into the net.
“That’s hockey,” Team USA coach Danton Cole said. “If you throw the puck toward the net, good things will happen. It’s how we responded to the situation. We are a young team and wins are going to be tough to come by for us as 17-year olds in this league.”
Muskegon goaltender Hayden Stewart made a key save in front of the Lumberjack net to preserve the 3-0 lead in the second period.
Leibinger increased Muskegon’s lead with a blast from the left point off a faceoff that was won by McDonald. That shorthanded goal came with 29 seconds left in the middle period.
Any thoughts of a Team USA comeback quickly were dispelled in the first minute of the third period. At the 21-second mark, Brodzinski scored on a high blast from the right point, and 27 seconds later, McDonald redirected a pass from Zach Yoder into the net. That sealed the deal for the Jacks, who owned a 6-0 lead.
“I thought we did some good stuff,” Muskegon coach Jim McKenzie said. “We were moving our feet and putting on good pressure and I liked the way we went to the net,.”
Team USA got on the board with three goals to cut the deficit in half.
“We learn so much every game,” said Cole, a former Muskegon Fury coach. “Muskegon played a good game and Jim has them playing well. When we made mistakes, they took advantage of them.”