By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
The Muskegon Lumberjacks got one tiny scrap of good news this weekend:
The Green Bay Gamblers packed up and left town, and the Lumberjacks won’t have to play them again for awhile.
The Gamblers spent the last three games completely overpowering the Lumberjacks. On Wednesday Muskegon gave up three goals in the final 67 seconds to blow what had been a tied game. On Friday they gave up five second period goals en route to a five-goal loss.
The latest embarrassment occurred Saturday, when Green Bay jumped out to a three-goal first period lead and cruised to a 6-3 victory in front of 1,893 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
The three-game sweep allowed Green Bay (11-5-4) to overtake Muskegon for fourth place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference standings with 26 points. The Lumberjacks dropped to 10-10-4 and remained stuck at 24 points.
Muskegon Coach Todd Krygier blamed himself after Friday’s loss, saying he put the players through an exhausting practice Thursday that left then zapped the next night.
He still defended his team Saturday, noting that the Lumberjacks outshot the Gamblers 49-28, the first time they outshot an opponent in nine games. He said his goalies gave up too many easy goals, turning the tide in Green Bay’s favor.
“We (actually) took it to them, we outshot them 2 to 1,” Krygier said. “We just couldn’t keep the puck out of the net. I think we outworked them and outplayed them in some respects, except we didn’t score as many goals. The positive part is we came back and made it 4-3, but then we couldn’t get a routine save.
“When you give up three goals on five shots (in the first period), and we’ve got 15 shots to their five at the time, it’s frustrating. It just is what it is. Every team has struggles at times. This happens to be ours. All we can do is get ready for Friday.”
The miserable series was uncharacteristic for the Lumberjacks in a number of ways.
They played Green Bay twice earlier in the season, winning one and losing one, but both games went to overtime shootouts. But the Gamblers outscored Muskegon 17-6 this week.
Most of the Lumberjacks’ games had been highly competitive prior to this week, with 15 of the previous 20 decided by a single tally.
And the Lumberjacks had been tough at home, winning 7 of 11 games at Walker Arena before this week, including 4 of 6 this month.
One thing that was too familiar was the Lumberjacks’ habit of turning the puck over in their own zone, allowing opponent too many easy and uncontested shots.
“We have defensemen coming out of high school inexperienced,” Krygier said. “We’re working with them. We’re addressing all these issues. But I thought we broke the puck out better tonight, made decisions better overall. Still we know we have to get better. We’re not playing at the level we need to.”
Green Bay opened the scoring with 8:43 left in the first period when a shot from the point was deflected past Muskegon goalie Eric Schierhorn. Drew Best was credited with the tally.
Muskegon had a golden opportunity less than a minute later when Matt Mendelson was tripped on a breakaway and was awarded a rare penalty shot. But his effort was thwarted by Green Bay goalie Jared Rutledge, preserving the visitor’s one-goal lead.
Green Bay’s Ryan Lough scored with 5:43 left in the first period, then his teammate Ryan Siroky followed suit 15 seconds later, giving Green Bay a three-goal edge after one period.
Muskegon pulled Schierhorn after the third goal in favor of goalie Jordan Uhelski. It was the second straight night that Schierhorn was yanked in mid-game.
Green Bay continued its onslaught less than two minutes into the second period when the Lumberjacks coughed up the puck in their own end and the Gamblers’ Dawson Cook tucked it past Uhelski.
Muskegon’s Cullen Hurley scored his first goal of the season seven minutes later, leaving Green Bay with a 4-1 lead after two periods.
The Lumberjacks pulled within one in the final period, getting a goal in the first minute from Mason Jobst (third of the season) and a short-handed goal from Matt Iacopelli (14th of the season).
But Green Bay drove the nail in the coffin with a pair of goals down the stretch from Colin Sullivan and Cook, who notched his second tally of the game.