By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks were burned by the “too many men on the ice” curse for the second week in a row, and it cost them a chance to move up a spot in the standings.

The Lumberjacks, playing perhaps one of their best games of the season, battled league power Dubuque to a 2-2 tie after regulation Saturday.

The five minute playoff period was only 30 seconds old when the Lumberjacks were whistled for too many men on the ice.

Dubuque’s Phil Boje cashed in less than a minute later, drilling a shot from the point past Muskegon goalie Jordan Uhelski to give the Fighting Saints a dramatic 3-2 victory in front of 1,642 fans at L.C. Walker Sports Arena.

It was the second time in three games that the Jacks were hurt by such a penalty. They were down a goal last Saturday to Cedar Rapids with less than two minutes remaining.

They pulled their goalie for an extra attacker, but had to put him right back in when they received a two minute minor for too many men on the ice. They lost that game, as well.

“It’s just a matter of communication,” said Muskegon coach Todd Krygier, whose team dropped to 7-7-2 on the season. “We’re expecting a guy to make a change (come to the bench) and he doesn’t, and the other guy jumps out there anyway because he’s trying to get ahead of the play.

“We’ve got to communicate better. Everybody’s got to do what they’re supposed to do.”

Friday’s game was a battle for third place in the United States Hockey League’s Eastern Conference. Muskegon and Dubuque came in tied at 16 points in the standings, although the Fighting Saints had played five fewer games.

The two teams will go back at it Saturday night at 7:15 p.m. at L.C. Walker Arena.

The Lumberjacks looked like they might be overwhelmed in the first period, being outshot 12-0 in the first 10 minutes. Dubuque took advantage on a power play with 9:54 remaining when Robby Darrar popped a rebound past Uhelski to give the Fighting Saints a 1-0 lead.

But the Lumberjacks woke up five minutes later when Cooper Marody nearly scored on a wraparound attempt, and Steven Spinner, playing his second game for Muskegon, popped the rebound past Dubuque goalie Christian Frey. Spinner’s goal came on the Lumberjack’s first shot on goal of the game.

The Lumberjacks took the lead  with a minute left in the first period when Matt Iacopelli took a centering pass on a 2-on-1 break from Robbie Demontis and blasted a shot past Frey.

The second period had plenty of action, with both teams having numerous scoring chances and both goalies making great saves. Muskegon outshot Dubuque 14-7, but nothing went in and the Lumberjacks clung to their one goal lead after two periods.

Dubuque tied the game with another power play goal with 8:55 left in regulation. Shane Kavanaugh got a rebound in front of the Muskegon net and drilled it home, with assists from Darrar and Jarrid Privitera.

The overtime period could have gone either way if it weren’t for the miscommunication and final penalty.

The Lumberjacks had to be happy in some respects. They managed 29 shots and two goals on Dubuque, which came into the game with the fewest goals allowed in the league.

Uhelski also turned in a solid effort, turning away 32 Dubuque shots in the losing effort.

“They’re an excellent hockey team and we’ve played them tough twice this year, but we haven’t finished the job,” Kryger said. “The bottom line is we gave up three power play goals. We’ve got to do a better job penalty killing. It’s tough to kill penalties – we’ve got to have guys making that commitment to get that done.”