By Steve Gunn
MUSKEGON – It’s hard to say who the biggest hero was in the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ dramatic playoff victory on Wednesday night.
Demontis made a diving stop of a Youngstown shot that was headed for an open goal midway through the third period, preserving a 4-4 tie and keeping the Jacks from giving up their third short-handed goal of the game.
That set the table for Iacopelli, who blasted a one-timer from the right circle 4:38 into overtime, giving Muskegon a 5-4 victory in the first game of the best-of-five quarterfinal series at L.C. Walker Arena.
The series will continue this weekend, with the second and third games in Youngstown. Wednesday’s win guaranteed that the series will not end without another game in Muskegon. That would be on Monday night, if necessary.
Iacopelli scored the game winner on a nice pass from Ryan Siroky, who dug the puck out of the corner.
“I was yelling ‘Siroky, Siroky,’ he passed me the puck and it ended up in the net,” said Iacopelli, who had 24 goals in the regular season, which tied him for the team lead. “As soon as the puck came to me my eyes got wide. This was huge. Having every single guy on the team put something in to help get the win, it was amazing.”
Iacopelli’s goal was made possible by DeMontis’ spectacular play in the third period.
The Jacks had squandered a two-goal lead, largely because they gave up two short-handed goals earlier in the contest.
Muskegon was on the power play when DeMontis’ pass was intercepted near center ice by Youngstown star Kyle Connor, who broke in alone toward the Lumberjack goal.
Lumberjack goalie Eric Schierhorn took a risk by coming far out of the goal, trying to snuff the breakaway before it developed. Connor got past Schierhorn and took a shot toward the open goal.
But DeMontis reappeared at the last minute, dove and knocked the puck away with his stick, just a few feet before it found the Lumberjack goal.
“I thought I was going to catch the guy on the breakaway, but Schier came out of the net,” DeMontis said. “I was ready to play goalie for a minute, but he ended up shooting right away so I ended up diving with my stick.”
Lumberjacks Coach Todd Krygier laughed after the game when asked about DeMontis’ save.
“I think Schierhorn was thinking he was not going to let this guy score another short-handed goal, so he takes a risk, the guy got past him and DeMontis dives and makes a great play and it keeps us in the game,” Krygier said.
“Two shorthanded goals was ridiculous. We didn’t manage the puck well. We’re a lot better and smarter than that. We can’t make those mistakes.”
Krygier admitted the opening game victory was huge against Youngstown, which won the Anderson Cup as the league’s best team in the regular season.
“It was a must win because it puts us back in our own building, one way or the other, worst-case scenario or best-case scenario,” Krygier said. “We’ve got to find a way to win Friday night. It’s really important to respond well the next game. We don’t want to let them back in.”
The game didn’t start well for the Lumberjacks.
Conner, the league’s leading scorer, put the Phantoms on the board just 39 seconds into the game.
But the Lumberjacks were not intimidated, getting a goal from Mark Petaccio on a breakaway less than two minutes later, and another from Griffen Molino at 18:01 of the first, with one second left on a 5-on-3 power play.
Krygier said the first Muskegon goal was huge, after Youngstown scored and gained the momentum so early.
“That was real big,” he said. “We didn’t want to play too long from behind. Your confidence goes down. I thought we responded really well.”
Youngstown’s Josh Melnick evened the score at 2-2 with a short-handed goal at 19:32 of the first period.
The second period started out well for the Jacks.
Christian Wolanin single-handedly fought the puck into the Youngstown zone, then popped in a rebound from short range at 6:50 to put Muskegon up 3-2.
Adrian Sloboda followed with a slap shot goal from the point at 8:48, giving the Lumberjacks a two-goal edge.
Youngstown answered with a pair of goals of its own. Ryan Lomberg scored the Phantom’s second shorthanded goal at 11:15 of the second period, then Vas Kolias knotted the score at 4-4 with a goal at 15:12.
The third period was scoreless, thanks to DeMontis’ diving save.
Iacopelli settled the issue 4:38 into the overtime period when he took the pass from Siroky and ripped it home for the win.