By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
After three straight wins to start the season, the Muskegon Lumberjacks were ready for a major test.
They hosted the Fargo Force, the defending Western Conference champions and a team the Lumberjacks have never beaten in three-plus years in the league.
They passed the test with flying colors.
Three different Lumberjacks scored, the defense was strong and goalie Eric Schierhorn stopped 31 shots for his first shutout of the season as Muskegon skated away with a 3-0 victory Friday in front of 1,400 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
The Lumberjacks will try to keep their perfect record intact Saturday night in a rematch with Fargo. Game time is 7:15 p.m.
“I thought the guys came to play,” said Lumberjacks Coach Todd Krygier. “We did a much better job playing defensive hockey, gave up a lot fewer shots than in the last three games, we had the chances and buried them and Schierhorn was stellar in net again.”
The Lumberjacks did more than break their long losing streak against Fargo Friday. They answered several concerns that Krygier had coming into the weekend.
Krygier said his team had a tendency over the first three games to come out strong in the first period, then fade away in the second and third, resulting in some very close finishes.
Muskegon played a more complete game Friday, dominating the first period, overcoming a lull in the first half of the second period and keeping Fargo off the scoreboard in the third.
The last part wasn’t easy, considering the Force pulled their goalie for an extra attacker with five minutes left, forcing Muskegon to play 5-on-6 for the balance of the game.
“Our opponents had outscored us in the second period 5-1 in the first three games and we outscored them 1-0 tonight,” Krygier said. “We can’t do anything about the past, but we addressed it in the locker room between periods tonight. It’s those incremental improvements I’m looking for, game by game.”
Krygier had also been concerned about the lack of success on the power play, and problems with the penalty killing unit.
But the team improved in both areas against Fargo, scoring a power play goal in the third period, killing three penalties, and overcoming the extra Fargo attacker over the last five minutes.
Krygier said the return of Mason Jobst, who had been out since last season following elbow surgery, added a lot to the penalty-killing effort.
“Adding Mason Jobst to the lineup was huge – he’s an outstanding penalty killer,” Krygier said. “Having Cullen Hurley back after missing the last two games, and getting Trevor Morbeck in the mix, really added a lot to the penalty kill as well. And I think our defense did a really good job moving the puck to the weak side to break us out a lot.”
Schierhorn was at his best at the end of the game, turning away several tough shots as Fargo desperately tried to break the shutout.
“He had some tough saves at the end, there weren’t any gimmes there,” Krygier said. “The guys were rooting for him on the bench at the end of the game and he ended up getting the shutout.”
The Lumberjacks stuck to their early season script, dominating play in the first period and outshooting Fargo 16-9.
Muskegon’s Cooper Marody drew first blood just over the midway point of the period when he tipped a shot from the left point past Fargo goalie Brendan Jensen. Janik Moeser and Robbie DeMontis had assists.
The Lumberjacks went up 2-0 with 8:30 left in the second period when C.J. Smith got the puck between the circles and blasted it past Jensen.
The goal was Smith’s third of the season, which leads the team. Assists went to Jobst and Morbeck.
Connor Hurley finished the scoring just 1:06 into the third period with a power play goal. Tommy Panico and Adam Larkin had assists.
Muskegon outshot Fargo 34-31 for the game.