By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – There were times on Sunday when it seemed as though the Muskegon Lumberjacks were playing against Bloomington and the referees.
In the first period the refs allowed a controversial Bloomington goal which erased Muskegon’s early lead. The Lumberjacks insisted the net came off its moorings and play should have been stopped before the goal.
In the second period the refs called a controversial double minor on Lumberjack Keegan Ward, for slashing and contact to the head. Bloomington took advantage of the four minute power play to take a one-goal lead.
But the Lumberjacks didn’t crumble, despite the referees’ best efforts.
Robbie DeMontis scored midway through the second period to tie the game, then Matej Paulovic and Jack Rowe added third period tallies as the Lumberjacks rallied for an exciting 4-3 victory over Bloomington in front of 1,408 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
The Jacks collected their fifth win in seven games and improved to 12-5-1, good for 25 points and second place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference standings.
Muskegon Coach Todd Krygier was happy with the victory, but was still bristling about the calls after the game.
“I don’t know what was going on – at one point they called like five penalties in a row against us,” said Krygier, who was called for a bench minor penalty in the second period for complaining about the calls.
“These (referees) are immature and they’ve got rabbit ears. They’re emotionally charged, they have rabbit ears, and that’s what happens.”
The Lumberjacks were only able to overcome their penalty problems with the help of effective penalty killing. The Jacks held the Thunder scoreless on four of five power plays, allowing their big scorers to take control of the game in the third period.
In two games this weekend, the Lumberjacks killed off 10 of 11 opponent power plays.
Meanwhile, the game-winning goals in the third period were a continuation of a hopeful pattern this season. Seven of the Lumberjacks’ 12 wins have come when they were tied or trailing heading into the final period.
“Now we have to do that against teams that are above us in the standings, starting with Dubuque on Wednesday,” said Krygier, whose team passed Dubuque by one point Sunday in the Eastern Conference race. “That will be a good test for us.”
Muskegon’s Trevor Hamilton opened the scoring at 5:23 of the first period with a hard shot from just inside the blue line that got past Bloomington goalie David Jacobson. DeMontis had an assist on the goal.
Bloomington’s Butrus Ghafari scored about three minutes later, when his shot hit the boards behind the Muskegon goal, rebounded toward the net, then somehow slipped past Lumberjack goalie Eric Schierhorn.
Krygier thought the net had come loose and the whistle should have been blown before the goal.
The game was tied 1-1 at the first intermission.
Bloomington took a 2-1 lead with a goal from Blake Gober at the 8:44 mark of the second period. DeMontis tied the score for Muskegon at 13:40 with assists from Christian Wolanin and Matheson Iacopelli.
The Lumberjacks took a 3-2 lead with a power play goal by Paulovic at 9:46 of the third period. Wolanin got his second assist on the goal. Rowe put the Jacks up 4-2 at the 16:11 mark, with assists from DeMontis and Iacopelli.
Bloomington pulled within one goal with a tally from Jacob Slaker at the 19:06 mark, but that’s as close as the Thunder would come.
Muskegon outshot Bloomington 38-35. Schierhorn, who had a shutout victory on Friday, stopped 32 shots in his second strong performance of the weekend.