By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks are becoming very good at playing short-handed.
That’s a big reason why they swept two games from the Green Bay Gamblers this weekend.
The Lumberjacks killed all five Green Bay power plays Saturday – after killing all four Friday – and hung on for a 4-2 victory over the Gamblers in front of 1,423 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
The penalty killing unit was particularly effective in the third period when it killed three Gambler power plays – covering six minutes of the period – as the Lumberjacks clung to a one-goal lead.
Muskegon won its third straight game and improved to 7-3-0 on the season. They have 14 points in the standings and remain tied for first place in the United States Hockey League’s Eastern Conference with Cedar Rapids.
“The guys worked hard blocking shots and showed some desperation and urgency (in penalty killing) all weekend,” said Muskegon Coach Todd Krygier, who noted that Green Bay has yet to score a power play goal this year.
“Of course the goalie is always the best penalty killer, and (Eric) Schierhorn played two solid games.”
The Lumberjacks were dominant offensively, outshooting Green Bay 37-32 for the game. They were particularly strong in the first two periods, building a 33-19 advantage in shots and keeping the puck out of their own zone.
The game might not have been as close if Green Bay goalie Jason Pawlowski had not made several great saves.
“We’ve done what we’ve had to do to win recently against Green Bay and Chicago, which is huge in our conference,” Krygier said. “It was a good weekend.”
Green Bay’s Vili Saarijarvi opened the scoring when he popped a rebound past Schierhorn at 3:36 into the first period.
The Lumberjacks answered at the 10:50 mark when Steven Merl took a perfect centering pass from Robbie Demontis in the right corner and popped it past Pawlowski.
Muskegon took a 2-1 lead at 18:17 of the first period with a power play goal from Tom Marchin. It was the Lumberjacks’ first power play goal of the weekend, after going 0-for-5 with an extra skater Friday night.
The Gamblers evened the score at 2-2 at 15:38 of the second period with a rebound goal by Drew Best.
Muskegon’s David Keefer brought the crowd to its feet when he scored on a long wrist shot from just inside the blue line with one second left in the second frame, giving the Lumberjacks a 3-2 edge.
“He’s really earned his ice time,” Krygier said of Keefer, who now has three game-winning goals this season. “He works hard and has a nice scoring touch.”
There was no scoring for most of the third period. The Lumberjacks held on to their lead by killing three Green Bay power plays covering six minutes.
They had one scare at the 6:19 mark of the third when Green Bay put the puck in the net, but the goal was waived off due to the Gamblers having a player in the goal crease.
Muskegon’s Cooper Marody sealed the victory with an empty net goal with 16 seconds remaining in the game.