By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks had an unfamiliar experience on Saturday night – a victory on their home ice.
And they earned it the hard way, gaining an early two-goal lead, falling behind by one, then rallying for an exciting 4-3 win over the Sioux Falls Stampede in front of 1,793 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
Forward Will Smith scored the game-winning goal for Muskegon at the 7:31 mark of the third period.
The Lumberjacks are now 7-4 on the season, but five of those victories have come on the road.
Lumberjacks Coach John LaFontaine said it was great to give local fans the chance to go home happy, for a change.
“When we are on the road we have confidence, and we come back here we should have confidence, but that’s a young team trying to figure out how to be consistent,” LaFontaine said. “I was very proud of our guys during the third period, they showed great resolve.”
The victory made up for Friday’s very disappointing 2-1 loss to the Stampede, when the Lumberjacks had a whopping 60-22 shot advantage, but lost 2-1.
The offensive barrage continued for Muskegon on Saturday. The Jacks outshot Sioux Falls 43-24 (including 20-6 in the first period), and this time made their efforts count.
“I thought the first period was just like last night, but we punched one in,” LaFontaine said. “Then we get to the second, and you think ‘Don’t take the foot off the gas, just keep playing,’ but we found a way to let up a little bit and it cost us.
“Anytime you get over 35 shots and you keep the other team to under 25 you have a good chance to win.
“Last night was one of those games you put behind you.”
The Lumberjacks opened the scoring with their 16th shot on goal, at the 17:33 mark of the first period, with an unassisted tally from Keenan Suthers.
Matt Steeves added a goal for Muskegon 5:36 into the second period, giving the hosts a promising 2-0 lead.
The Stampede roared back with three goals in the second period – from Max Johnson (7:15), Matt Quercia (11:21) and Jason O’Neill (14:33) – to take a 3-2 lead.
But Muskegon fought back and claimed the win with two goals in the third period.
The first came at the 2:10 mark on a goal from Casey Gilling, with an assist from Will Smith.
Smith, who was named the No. 1 star of the game, scored the game-winner 7:31 into the final period with assists from Garrett Van Wyhe and Bo Hanson.
Muskegon goalie Adam Brizgala got the win, stopping 21 of 24 shots.