By Dave Hart

MUSKEGON- The Muskegon Lumberjacks have been struggling of late, dropping six of their last seven games before Saturday night’s contest.

Despite the early season disappointment, the Lumberjacks are very much in the thick of a tight race for playoff positioning in the USHL’s Eastern Conference.

Muskegon helped its cause, and clmb ed out of last place in the standings, by defeating Central Illinois 4-2 at the L.C. Walker Arena in front of 1,708 fans.

The Lumberjacks are now 6-10-2 on the season, good for 14 points and eighth place in the nine-team conference. They have won two of their last three games.

“The team is starting to come together,” said Lumberjacks coach John LaFontaine, who returned to the bench after missing friday’s game due to illness. “We are starting to play for each other, starting to play harder and starting to do the little things.

“It’s good to see and it’s the right time to come together.”

Muskegon’s Jachym Kondelik brings the puck around the the net. Photo/Mitchell Dixon MSD Photography

Muskegon will try to accomplish back-to-back wins for the first time his season, and continue to move up in the standings next weekend, when they travel to Green Bay to play the Gamblers.

The Lumberjacks were led by Anthony Del Gaizo with two goals, while Wyatt Bongiovanni and Vincent de Mey each chipped in with a goal and an assist.

Lumberjacks goalie Keegan Karki stopped 25 of 27 shots to collect the win.

Muskegon killed all three Flying Aces’ power play opportunities and did not give up a goal in transition, which was an improveent from many games this season.

The Lumberjacks opened the scoring at the 4:25 mark of the first period on a goal by Del Gaizo. Jachym Kondelik and Nash Nienhuis each notched an assist on the tally.

The Flying Aces tied the game 1-1 at the 7:56 mark of the first period on a goal from Simon Butala.

Muskegon regained its lead at 2-1 on a goal from de Mey at the 7:50 mark of the second period. Bongiovanni and Bray Crowder each assisted on the goal.

The Lumberjacks increased their lead to 3-1 with a breakaway goal by Bongiovanni at the 14:06 mark of the second period. De Mey picked up the lone assist.

Central Illinois cut its deficit to 3-2 on a goal from Jakub Lacka at the 13:10 mark of the third period.

Muskegon responded with a Del Gaizo goal at the 15:50 mark of the third period to increase the lead to 4-2. Egor Afanasyev and Matej Pekar notched assists on the insurance goal.

The Lumberjacks outshot Central Illinois by a 31-27 margin.