By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – The Indiana Ice must be getting real sick of the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
They have a splendid 24-7-6 record, good for first place in the United States Hockey League’s Eastern Conference. They went the entire month of January without a loss, posting an 8-0-2 record.
But for all of their success, they can’t seem to get past the Lumberjacks.
Indiana’s last loss, in late December, came against Muskegon. And their unbeaten string ended Saturday with a 2-1 loss to the Lumberjacks in front of 2,537 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
Muskegon evened its season record against Indiana at 3-3. Overall the Lumberjacks are 19-18-4 for 42 points, good for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
The victory was a happy ending to a challenging weekend for the Lumberjacks. They dropped a 5-1 decision Friday in Waterloo, Iowa to the first-place team in the Western Conference, and then had to make the long trip home to face the Ice.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Muskegon coach Todd Krygier, when asked about his team’s good fortune against the Ice. “They have an excellent hockey team and they’re well coached, but we’ve played them hard.
“Today I was really proud of our guys. We didn’t have a good game against Waterloo last night. They took it to us pretty good. We had to dig really deep tonight and we managed to get it done.
“If we can continue to play like this against most teams we will win most of our games.”
Muskegon looked like a road-weary team in the first period Saturday. Indiana outshot the hosts 13-6 and grabbed a 1-0 lead on a goal by Dwyer Tschantz.
But the Lumberjacks fought back to capture the victory on a pair of goals by Scott Pooley.
The first came with 1:04 left in the second period when Pooley, stationed in front of the net, chipped in a shot from the point. Robbie DeMontis and Christian Wolanin had assists on the goal.
Pooley’s game winner came with 6:19 left in the final period when Chase Hatcher stole the puck, skated in on a 2-on-1 break and fed it to Pooley, who knocked it past Ice goalie Jason Pawlowski.
“I pretty much owe it all to Hatch,” said Pooley, who was named the game’s No. 1 star. “He outskated their defenseman, beat him to the puck, beat him in the foot race to get to the net and slid it back door to me. I owe it all to him.”
The Lumberjacks victory was made possible by goalie Jordan Uhelski, who stopped 39 of 40 Indiana shots, including several with brilliant saves. The Ice outshot the Lumberjacks 40-26 on the night.
Uhelski was at his best in the second period, when the Lumberjacks were outshot 18-9 but managed to keep the Ice from scoring.
Muskegon’s power play unit also turned in a great performance, killing four penalties to give their team a chance to rally and steal the win.
“The penalty killing has been good since we came back from (Christmas) break, since we’ve been using more mobile guys and trying to pressure the other team, instead of focusing on trying to block shots,” Krygier said. “It has been working well.”