Lumberjacks get weekend sweep, win third in a row, with a 4-2 victory over Chicago

By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
LocalSportsJournal.com

MUSKEGON – It’s not how many shots on goal you get. It’s about finding a way to bury them.

The Muskegon Lumberjacks have outshot their opponents the majority of games this season, and it hasn’t gotten them far.

On Saturday, the Jacks were outshot badly, 40-23, by the defending Clark Cup champion Chicago Steel. But they made the most of their opportunities and skated away with a 4-2 victory at L.C. Walker Arena.

The Jacks collected two goals and an assist from Wyatt Bongiovanni and single tallies from Collin Murphy and Anthony Del Gaizo.

Colby Bukes added two assists for the Muskegon.

Muskegon’s Monte Graham controls the puck and leaves No. 22 Matteo Pietroniro behind. Photo/Leo Valdez

The victory completed an impressive two-game weekend sweep over the Steel, and gave the Lumberjacks their first three-game winning streak of the season.

The Jacks have now won five of their last seven games.

Suddenly the Lumberjacks, who have spent most of the past two months trying to stay out of last place in the United States Hockey League’s Eastern Conference, look like a much improved team with a chance to move up in the standings.

Impressively, the Jacks have gotten hot with three key players – Clayton Phillips, Jackym Kondelik and goalie Adam Brizgala – out of town for an international tournament.

“it’s good to see that it doesn’t matter (what opposing team) steps on the ice, we know we can beat them,” said Lumberjacks Coach John LaFontaine, whose team improved to 9-11-2. “We are coming together as a team.”

The Lumberjacks received another solid performance from goaltender Keegan Karki, who was added to the roster as a backup goalie several weeks into the season, but has been playing a lot lately, particularly with Brizgala gone for several games.

Egor Afansvev looks down at Chicago’s Austin Magera. Photo/Leo Valdez

He stopped 38 of 40 shots, and carried a shutout into the third period. Karki, a 6-4, 2018 pounder, improved his record to 5-5 on the season.

“We gave up more shots than we have all year,” LaFontaine said. “I thought we got a really strong game out of half of our forwards, and all of our defensemen and Karki, who¬†played a hell of a game.”

The Jacks struck first when Bongiovanni scored from close range just 1:33 into the game, with assists from Bukes and Emilio Pettersen.

Muskegon broke loose for two more goals in the second period.

Murphy started things off just 1:14 into the period with a goal in from front of the net, his first of the season. Bukes and Bongiovanni assisted.

The Jacks went up 3-0 when Matej Pekar ripped a shot from between the faceoff circles that went into Chicago goalie Justin Robbin’s glove, then bounced out onto the ice.

Anthony Del Gaizo was there to chip it in and collect his third goal of the weekend at 11:20 of the second period. It was his team-leading 13th goal of the season.

Chicago made things interesting in the third period, collecting goals from Aaro Vidgren at 1:15 and former Lumberjack Derek Daschke at 14:12 to make the score 3-2.

The Steel pulled their goalie for an extra attacker late in the game, but the Jacks held them off, then Bongiovanni sealed up the victory by stuffing in an empty-net goal with two seconds remaining.

The Lumberjacks’ penalty-killing unit was outstanding, holding Chicago scoreless on six power play opportunities.

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