Lumberjacks get another come-from-behind win, beat Youngstown 4-2 and clinch the first-round playoff series

By Steve Gunn
LocalSportsJournal.com

MUSKEGON – Few people gave the Muskegon Lumberjacks much of a chance to beat the first-place Youngstown Phantoms in the first round of the Clark Cup playoffs.

But the Lumberjacks were not afraid.

They fell behind in each of the first three games of the series and could have easily given up. Instead they fought back to win two of those games in overtime.

Christian Wolanin finds the back of the net for Muskegon as No. 20 Matej Paulovic and No. 25 Tommy Marchin get close to the net. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

Christian Wolanin finds the back of the net for Muskegon as No. 20 Matej Paulovic and No. 25 Tommy Marchin get close to the net. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

They fell behind again on Monday against a desperate Youngstown squad fighting for survival. But the Jacks rallied one more time, getting two big goals from Christian Wolanin and finishing off the Phantoms with a thrilling 4-2 victory at L.C. Walker Arena.

Corey Schueneman scored the eventual game winner late in the second period. Most of the nail-biting third period was scoreless until Griffen Molino put the fork in the Phantoms with an empty-net goal with six seconds left.

Eric Schierhorn posts the save for Muskegon. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

Eric Schierhorn posts the save for Muskegon. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

The Lumberjacks now advance to the USHL Eastern Conference finals against the Dubuque Fighting Saints, who swept Cedar Rapids in the first round. Game 1 will be Friday in Dubuque.

The odds of Muskegon winning the series seemed long at best. Youngstown was very hot in the final few months of the regular season, winning 21 of its last 23 games and setting a league record with 17 consecutive wins.

But the playoffs are an entirely different matter, as the Lumberjacks demonstrated throughout the past week.

“We knew we were playing against the best team in the league and had to be on top of our game,” said Lumberjacks Coach Todd Krygier. “I’m really proud that our guys beat a team that set the league record for consecutive wins. In the end we battled and beat a great hockey team.”

Ryan Siroky controls the puck alongside the net as Youngstown goalie Chris Birdsall guards the inside post. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

Ryan Siroky controls the puck alongside the net as Youngstown goalie Chris Birdsall guards the inside post. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

The Jacks got a huge boost from Wolanin, who scored late in the first period to erase an early Youngstown lead, then gave the Jacks a 2-1 lead with a power play goal in the second period.

“Nobody believed in us from the start,” said Wolanin, the Lumberjacks’ captain. “Everyone counted us out. It was an us against the league, us against the world type of mentality. We really dug deep for the first series, now we have another one to go, we’re not letting up.”

Youngstown’s Kiefer Sherwood opened the scoring just 1:35 into the game. That was reminiscent of Game 1 in Muskegon, when the Phantoms scored in the first minute of the game.

The situation could have easily been worse for the Jacks, who dodged three bullets when three Youngstown shots clanked off the goal post in the first period.

No. 13 Griffen Molino looks to pass the puck from one knee as Youngstown's No. 22 Chase Pearson tries to get around him. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

No. 13 Griffen Molino looks to pass the puck from one knee as Youngstown’s No. 22 Chase Pearson tries to get around him. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

Wolanin got the Lumberjacks on the scoreboard at 15:54 of the first period with a hard, rising shot from just inside the blue line that got past Youngstown goalie Chris Birdsall.

Wolanin struck again at 11:52 of the second period with a power play goal, giving Muskegon a 2-1 lead.

The Phantoms tied the game a with a goal by Taylor Best at 15:13 of the second period, then Schueneman gave the Jacks a 3-2 edge with a hard shot from the right faceoff circle at 16:14.

“I got a real nice pass from (Ryan) Siroky and I was alone and I found a way to beat the goalie,” said Schueneman, who was acquired by the Lumberjacks in a trade late in the regular season.

“It feels amazing. They are a very good team and they work really hard. I think we found another gear and we battled just as hard and it ended up going in our favor.”

Both teams had several great scoring chances in the fast and physical third period. At least one Muskegon shot hit a post, while Lumberjacks goalie Eric Schierhorn made a great glove save with 1:20 left to preserve the one-goal lead.

No. 13 Griffen Molino looks to pass the puck for Muskegon. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

No. 13 Griffen Molino looks to pass the puck for Muskegon. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

Molino’s open-netter ended the drama with six seconds remaining.

Muskegon outshot Youngstown 42-28, mostly due to a 19-6 advantage in the second period.

Youngstown Coach Anthony Noreen said all of the games in the series were similar, but in the end the breaks went Muskegon’s way.

“We hit three pipes in the first period (two in the first five minutes), we had chances,” Noreen said. “It was kind of the same thing in Game 3 and kind of the same thing in Game 1. We couldn’t find an answer to get one past Schierhorn. A big part of that’s a credit to him, a big part of that is a credit to them, their structure defensively.”

“For our guys, the season we had, there’s a lot to be proud of. This was a short sample size. Four games, all of them could have gone either way. Two overtimes, a lot of credit goes to them, but I’m still proud of our guys, for sure.”

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