By Steve Gunn
MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks may want to scout the Youngstown Phantoms closely when they play them Saturday night.
If they keep playing the way they did Friday, they may be seeing the red-hot Phantoms in the first round of the playoffs.
The Lumberjacks looked listless in a 4-0 loss to Team USA’s Under-17 squad Friday in front of 2,987 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
It was Muskegon’s first shutout loss since Nov. 28, and only their second of the season.
The loss dropped the Jacks’ record to 34-19-4 and ended their five-game win streak.
They fell into fourth place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference, one point behind Dubuque, which defeated Madison Friday.
The Lumberjacks, who have three regular season games left, might be in better shape finishing third. That would probably put them in a first round playoff series against Cedar Rapids, which seems likely to finish in second place.
But a fourth place finish would match them up with first-place Youngstown, which went into the weekend with an 18-1 record over its last 19 games, including a recent 17-game win streak.
That doesn’t sound like much fun, but Muskegon Coach Todd Krygier didn’t seem particularly concerned about playoff matchups after the game.
“It doesn’t matter who we get – they’re all good teams,” Krygier said. “We’re going to have to come to play no matter who we get. They key is playing well and I believe we will.”
Friday’s game may have been an isolated incident for the Jacks, but they didn’t look anything like the team that swept all three games last weekend and nailed down a playoff spot. Their best chances to score may have come on two shots that hit the goalposts.
“I think we were a little too high coming off last weekend and we just didn’t come ready to play,” Krygier said. “The 17s are an excellent hockey team, they played a really good game, and we just didn’t have it tonight.”
The first period was scoreless.
Team USA took a 1-0 with a goal by Patrick Khodorenko at 1:51 of the second period.
The visitors added three goals in the third period, from William Lockwood at the 54 second mark, Khodorenko at 5:19 and an open net goal from Lockwood at 18:53.
The Lumberjacks were outshot 30-28. Team USA goalie Jake Oettinger collected the shutout win.
Michael Latorella took the loss in goal for the Lumberjacks, despite making several strong saves.