By Dave Tomczak
MUSKEGON – It was only a matter of time before the Muskegon Lumberjacks found the net Friday night.
The victory was important for the Lumberjacks, who had lost two out of their last three after having a two-month hot streak that put them in the thick of the USHL Eastern Conference race.
Muskegon, which has now won two games in a row, improved to 17-14-2 on the season. They have 36 points in the standings, and are only one point behind second-place Chicago and Green Bay.
Team USA, which will visit the Lumberjacks on Saturday night at 7:15 p.m., leads the division with 43 points.
Despite only managing seven shots on goal in the opening period, Chase Gresock’s goal just 2:38 into the game gave the Phantoms a 1-0 lead.
A Youngstown penalty early in the second period opened the door for the Muskegon offense to finally light the lamp.
With 15 seconds left on the power-play, Marc Del Gaizo fired a shot on goal that was deflected to his brother, Anthony, who knocked in a rebound for his league leading 24th goal of the year, tying the game at 1-1.
The Lumberjacks took the lead 2:50 later when Vincent De Mey shoveled in a backhand shot while tumbling to the ice.
After being shut out on 21 shots in the first, Muskegon had a 2-1 lead after four shots in the second.
“We felt we had one of the better first periods of the season,” said Lumberjacks coach John LaFontaine. “Pucks just weren’t bouncing for us in the first. In the second, we didn’t play as well, but the puck bounced for us.”
Youngstown had an opportunity to even the score at the 12:38 mark of the second period, when the Phantoms had a 5-on-3 power play, but failed to convert.
Good fortune came the Jacks’ way at the end of the Youngstown power play. As the puck reached center ice, Muskegon forward Bobby Kaiser picked it up on his way out of the penalty box and skated in for a breakaway goal that gave Muskegon a 3-1 lead.
“I saw the puck come out and I skated as hard as I could,” said Kaiser, who scored his fourth goal of the year. “I knew there were guys right behind me, so I just let it rip.”
The Phantoms were back on the power play less than a minute later, but once again the Lumberjacks were the ones who took advantage.
This time it was Emilio Pettersen getting the shorthanded breakaway goal, his eighth of the season, to put the Jacks up 4-1 .
Still on the power play, Youngstown finally took advantage when Eric Esposito scored to cut the lead to 4-2 after two periods.
Youngstown’s Michael Regush cut the Muskegon lead to 4-3 with 12:12 left in the game, but the Phantoms couldn’t pull even.
Anthony Del Gaizo put the game away with an empty netter with five seconds left, his 25th goal on the season.
The Lumberjacks finished with a 43-27 shot advantage and goalie Keegan Karki had 24 saves.
Matej Pekar, Jachym Kondelik, Pettersen, Matt Staudacher and Monte Graham finished with assists for Muskegon.