By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
The last time we saw the Lumberjacks at home three weeks ago, they had lost six of seven games and were mired in last place.
But then they surprised everyone by going on the road and winning four straight games.
They validated that winning streak, and stunned a big home crowd on Friday, by downing the first place Dubuque Fighting Saints 2-0 in front of an announced crowd of 4,139 at L.C. Walker Arena.
The Lumberjacks are now 7-6 on the season, the first time they’ve been above the .500 mark since the first game of the season. They are alone in sixth place of the USHL’s Eastern Conference, six points behind Dubuque.
The Lumberjacks and Fighting Saints will have a rematch Saturday night at 7:15 p.m.
The Jacks won the game with two quick first period goals and a consistent offense that kept the pressure on Dubuque for the first two periods.
They Jacks also played a strong game defensively, which has been a trend in recent weeks.
Their penalty killing was very strong, blanking Dubuque on four power plays. It was particularly impressive with about three minutes left in the game when Muskegon had a penalty and Dubuque pulled its goalie to gain a two-man advantage for two minutes.
Muskegon outshot Dubuque 34-24.
“The guys have been working hard in practice and taking pride in team defense, blocking shots and taking more shots,” said Muskegon Coach Todd Krygier.
“I have to give them credit. They’ve been taking it shift by shift, period by period, not worrying about the standings and just getting better.
“Winning breeds confidence, but at the same time Dubuque has been winning and has a lot of confidence, too. I told the guys the weekend has just begun. I want to win two games and we have a long way to go.”
Goalie Joey Daccord, who was the league’s top goalie last week, earned his second consecutive shutout with 24 saves, including 12 in the third period, when Dubuque put on the pressure and threatened to get back in the game.
“Joey has been a difference maker for us the last five games, it’s just that simple,” Krygier said. “He made the saves he had to make when we needed him to.”
Daccord credited his teammates for the positive results.
“As a team we have grown a lot,” he said. “The guys have come together as a group. I am seeing the puck better, the guys in front of me are playing much better.”
Muskegon did all of its damage with two goals in the first 10:19 of the contest.
Trevor Hamilton opened the scoring with a goal at the 5:52 mark, with an assist from Laine McKay.
Rem Pitlick added an unassisted goal for the Jacks at the 10:19 mark.
The Lumberjacks controlled the pace of the game for the first two periods, outshooting Dubuque 30-12. The second period was scoreless due to a series of great saves by Fighting Saints goalie Hunter Miska, who came into the game with a seven-game win streak.
Dubuque peppered Daccord in the third period, with a 12-4 advantage in shots, but couldn’t break the shutout.