By Dave Tomczak

MUSKEGON – For Muskegon Lumberjacks coach John LaFontaine, getting a much-needed victory for his young team was only a matter of time.

After all, the Lumberjacks are fourth in the USHL in shots per game, and even during their recent five-game losing streak, they’ve averaged 3.6 goals per game.

The Jacks just needed a solid defensive effort to turns things around, and on Saturday at L.C. Walker Arena, they got it.

Goalie Keegan Karki stopped 27 shots and Clayton Phillips scored late as the Lumberjacks snapped their losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Lincoln Stars.

“We’ve been outshooting teams but giving up easy goals,” LaFontaine said. “(Tonight) it looked in the second period that we might do that again, but we held it together and I’m proud of them.”

On a night when the Lumberjacks celebrated the old Muskegon Fury professional hockey club with throwback uniforms, the team did its best impression of the Fury, which skated at the L.C. Walker Arena from 1992-2008.

Muskegon’s Anthony Del Gaizo pursues Lincoln’s Zach Dubinsky, Photo/Marc Hoeksema

The Jacks engaged in three fights, much to the delight of the 2,917 fans in attendance.

The last of those fights led to a 4-on-3 advantage for the Lumberjacks, and they took advantage with a Wyatt Bongiovanni goal, his sixth of the season, with nine minutes left in the first period.

Seven minutes later, Bongiovanni picked up a loose puck behind the Stars’ net and centered it to Colby Bukes, who netted his first goal of the season, putting Muskegon up 2-0 with 1:44 left in the first period.

The Lumberjacks outshot the Stars 19-6 in the opening period, but their early momentum was gone once the second period started.

After failing on two early power-play opportunities, Lincoln broke through when Tristian Ashbrook one-timed a pass from Hunter Johannes past Karki to cut the Lumberjack lead to 2-1 with eight minutes left in the second.

Then 3:16 later, Josiah Slavin picked off an errant Muskegon pass, walked in alone and scored to leave the game tied 2-2 after two periods.

“We have the second youngest team in the league and we are going to make young mistakes,” LaFontaine said. “We have some young players who are still learning that once you get a lead, other teams are going to come at you hard, and you have to make stronger and quicker plays with the puck.”

Emilio Pettersen sends Lincoln’s Atte Tuliara flying. Photo/Marc Hoeksema

Muskegon regained the lead at the 9:55 mark of the third period when Emilio Pettersen dug out the puck in a battle behind the net and centered it to Phillips, who buried it with a one-timer from the left circle.

The Stars’ Casey Dornbach almost tied the game with five minutes left, but his wrist shot clanked off the crossbar.

Lincoln pulled goalie Tomas Vomacka with 1:27 left for the man-advantage. That resulted in the Stars getting two great looks right in front of the Muskegon net, but Karki denied them both times.

“The defense made a lot of good plays in front of me,” Karki said. “We gave up some things that we shouldn’t have, but we bounced back. We didn’t give up any odd-man rushes or breakaways and we kept guys out of the crease.”

Muskegon finished the game with a 33-29 shot advantage and improved to 5-9-2 on the season.

The Lumberjacks will host Waterloo on Dec. 1.