By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks deserve kudos for posting a spirited comeback Friday night.
But what they really needed was a victory to snap a frustrating losing streak, and they fell just short against the Indiana Ice.
A spate of penalties over seven disastrous minutes in the second period led to three Indiana goals, and the Lumberjacks went on to drop a 4-3 decision in front of 1,460 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
The loss was the fourth straight for Muskegon and the third in a row on home ice. The Lumberjacks dropped below the .500 mark the first time this season with a 10-11-4 record.
Muskegon will host Chicago Saturday night at 7:15 p.m.
The Lumberjacks were desperately hoping for a win, following three straight ugly losses to Green Bay last week.
They were in pretty good shape after one period with the score tied at 1-1.
But they hurt themselves in the second period with an ugly series of penalties that led to a pair of power play goals for Indiana. Then they gave up a shorthanded goal and found themselves trailing 4-1.
They rallied for two goals before the end of the second period, and had numerous chances to score in the third, but couldn’t put the puck in the net.
“We’re in a slump right now,” said Muskegon Coach Todd Krygier. “We dug ourselves a hole, we kind of ended up digging ourselves out of it, but we just couldn’t finish. Our objective tomorrow night is no goals against and to buckle down defensively. We can’t do anything about tonight.”
Indiana’s Tyler Pham opened the scoring midway through the first period when he took a pass to the left of the Muskegon goal and blew it past Lumberjack goalie Eric Schierhorn.
The Lumberjacks pulled even with 2:37 left in the period when Janik Moeser notched his first goal of the season.
The contest was decided in the second period.
The ugliness began less than two minutes into the period when Brian Pinho scored a power play goal for Indiana.
Minutes later Muskegon’s Alex Toscano had a scuffle with Indiana’s Scott Conway, but the referee considered it a one-way fight. He gave Toscano three penalties – five minutes for fighting, two minutes for instigating and a game misconduct– while Conway was not penalized at all. The result was a seven minute power play for the Ice.
About a minute later Muskegon’s Carson Gatt was penalized for a check from behind, giving Indiana a 5-on-3 advantage. Indiana’s Patrick Newell cashed in with a goal about five minutes into the period, giving the Ice a 3-1 lead.
Krieger said Toscano was retaliating for an attack on teammate Matt Iacopelli, who traded blows with Indiana’s Vincent Pedrie near the end of the first period. Pedrie drew a game misconduct for pulling off Iacopelli’s helmet during the fight.
“It was just a situation where Indy blatantly went after our leading goal scorer (Iacopelli) and Toscano was just responding, and the situation didn’t even up being the greatest,” Krygier said.
“It is what it is – Toscano was trying to do the right thing for his teammates and it didn’t work out the way any of us had planned. There’s not a lot you can do about it. Then Gatt got the checking from behind. It was frustrating.”
The Ice had a penalty about four minutes later, putting Muskegon on the power play, but Indiana’s Jason Salvaggio grabbed a loose puck in the Lumberjack zone and notched a shorthanded goal to give his team a 4-1 edge.
Muskegon fought back with a shorthanded goal by Robbie DeMontis and a power play goal by Trevor Morbeck to pull within one goal at the end of two periods.
Both teams had numerous chances to score in a fast and furious third period. The Lumberjacks had a two-man advantage in the final minute, after they pulled Schierhorn for an extra attacker and Indiana was whistled for a hooking penalty, but couldn’t get the tying goal.
The Lumberjacks had a team meeting immediately after the game, and Krygier said he talked to the players about improving defensively.
““We need to make a commitment to playing well in our own zone and staying out of the box,” he said. “It’s still early in the season – we’re only a third of the way through. We’re going through some hard times, but I would rather go through them now than later in the season.”
Muskegon outshot Indiana 31-27. The Lumberjacks also had the edge in penalties in the scrappy contest, getting whistled for nine infractions for 42 minutes while the Ice had eight penalties for 27 minutes.