By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – If there’s one endearing quality about the Muskegon Lumberjacks, it’s the fact that they never give up.
Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, but it’s always close and hard fought. That’s evidenced by the 15 games they’ve played this season that were decided by one goal.
Saturday was no exception. After playing so-so hockey and trailing after two periods, Muskegon scored two third period goals, including the game winner by Matt Mendelson with 14 second remaining, to seal a 4-3 victory over the Youngstown Phantoms in front of 1,876 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
The win avenged an ugly 5-3 loss to Youngstown on the road Friday night. Muskegon improves to 9-7-3 on the season.
“I’ve been saying from day one – even in the preseason when we were getting smoked, we would come back from being 4-5 goals down and compete,” said Muskegon Coach Todd Krygier. “If you have those competitive nature things eventually fall into place, like they did tonight.”
“We’re a young team but we play every single game all 60 minutes,” said Mendel son, who now has eight goals on the season after scoring twice Saturday.”That’s been a trademark of ours from the beginning and we’re going to continue it all year.”
The Lumberjacks didn’t exactly put on a clinic in quality hockey over the weekend. They gave up three power play goals Friday in Youngstown, and then gave the Phantoms numerous scoring opportunities Saturday with turnovers and defensive lapses in their own end.
Krieger said the many recent changes in the lineup, caused largely by three trades in the last two weeks, have left the Lumberjacks with little opportunity to tighten up on defense.
“I think we’ve been interchanging players in the lineup and interchanging lines,” he said. “We haven’t had a team together for a practice. Mistakes happen, but the guys compete and find a way to get it done.”
All the turnovers kept Muskegon goal Eric Shoehorn more than busy. He stopped 33 of 36 Youngstown shots, many from close range, and earned the “hardest worker” of the game reward.
Krieger said Shoehorn and fellow goalie Jordan Uhelski have done a great job all season, particularly when the defense struggles and big saves are necessary.
“The goaltending has been excellent all year and I’m sure it will be all year,” Krygier said. “They work hard, they’re character guys and they really compete in that net.”
Youngstown’s Kiefer Sherwood opened the scoring for the minutes into the game, breaking alone to beat Schierhorn just after a Lumberjack power play expired.
Muskegon tied the score halfway through the period when Mendelson took a pass from Christopher Dodero and deposited the puck past Youngstown goalie Colin DeAugustine.
Youngstown regained the lead five minutes into the second period with a goal from Kyle Conner.
But the Lumberjacks answered about a minute later when Matt Iacopelli grabbed the puck after a faceoff in the Youngstown end and stuffed it past DeAugstine.
The low point of the night for Muskegon came in the with about six minutes left in the second period, when Youngstown’s Tyler Spezia stole the puck on a Muskegon power play and broke in alone for a shorthanded goal.
Youngstown led 3-2 at the second intermission.
But the Lumberjacks tied the score with a power play goal almost five minutes into the third period. Adam Larkin took a hard shot from the point, and Dodero popped in the rebound to knot the game at 3-3.
Both teams had numerous chances to score before Mendelson got his winning goal with a hard shot from the top of the left circle.
“I saw a gap in the middle and (Alex) Toscano made a beautiful pass and I shot it,” Mendelson said. “I tried to shoot low ‘cause I know their goalie has a great glove hand and went in.
“Last night sort of stunk a little bit. It left a bad taste in our mouths. The great thing about hockey is you get a chance to come back the next day and make up for it.”