By Dave Hart

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks wrapped up their regular season home schedule on Saturday with a loss, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that the Jacks have been one of the best home teams in the USHL this season.

The Lumberjacks overcame a late deficit, only to fall to the Team USA Under-18 squad 3-2 in an overtime shootout contest in front of 2,225 fans at the L.C. Walker Arena. They gained a point in the standings for forcing a tie in regulation.

Muskegon still finished its home schedule with a sparkling 19-7-4 record. The Jacks are now 35-18-5 on the season, good for 75 points and second place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference.

The Lumberjacks will most likely open the playoffs against the third-place Dubuque Fights Saints. They still have two games left in the regular season, both on the road, against first-place Chicago next Friday and Bloomington on Saturday.

Both games will be meaningful, because the Lumberjacks would very much like to finish ahead of Dubuque in the conference standings and secure home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

“That is a good team that a lot of teams haven’t been close to beating,” said Lumberjacks Coach John LaFontaine about the Team USA squad. “I was proud of our guys, who kept working and battling. It was nice to get a point.”

“The goal is to get home-ice advantage,” the coach added. “We will do our best to close out strong and get ready for the playoffs.”

The Lumberjacks opened the scoring with a shorthanded breakaway goal from Casey Gilling at the 2:37 mark of the first period.

Team USA tied the game 1-1 with 8.3 seconds left on the first period on a goal from Oliver Wahlstrom.

Team USA took a 2-1 lead at the 12:26 mark of the second period on a goal from Scott Reedy. Muskegon tied the game 2-2 with 4:40 left in the period with an unassisted goal from Garrett Van Wyhe.

The game remained tied through the rest of regulation, with Team USA outshooting the Lumberjacks by a 36-21 margin.

Muskegon outshot Team USA 6-3 during the seven-minute overtime period, but neither team put the puck in the net.

Team USA collected two shootout goals, from Grant Mismash and Wahlstrom, to secure the victory. The Jacks failed to score in the shootout.

Keith Petruzzelli took the loss in goal for Muskegon despite stopping 34 of 36 Team USA shots during regulation and overtime.