By Dave Hart

MUSKEGON- The Muskegon Lumberjacks have struggled to stay out of the penalty box lately, and it cost them two important points in the standings on Friday night.

The Lumberjacks committed five penalties during the first period of their game against Dubuque, leading to a three-goal deficit.

The Jacks fought back hard and twice rallied to tie the score, but ultimately lost 5-4 to the Fighting Saints in front of 2,986 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.

Dubuque’s Adam Disdale cemented the win for Dubuque with a shorthanded goal with just over five minutes left in the game.

Muskegon is now 23-20-2 on the season, good for 48 points and a fourth-place tie with Green Bay in the very tight USHL Western Conference standings.

Bobby Kaiser sends the pass up ice for Muskegon. Photo/Mitchell Dixon MSD Photography

The Lumberjacks will look to avenge the loss on Saturday in a rematch against Dubuque. Faceoff is slated for 7:15 p.m.

“Special teams were the difference in the game,” said Lumberjacks coach John LaFontaine, whose team ranks second in the USHL in penalty minutes. “You can’t give up 5-on-3’s and shorthanded goals. It’s hard to play from behind in this league, and in the end four goals should be enough to win the hockey game.”

It was surprising that the Lumberjacks were held to four goals, after outshooting Dubuque by a lopsided 52-25 margin.

“We did a lot of good things, but the bottom line is during the first 15 minutes we weren’t ready and disciplined,” LaFontaine said.

The Fighting Saints scored the first three goals of the game during the opening period.

They came on a goal by Matias Maccelli at the 7:59 mark with four skaters on each side, a power play goal 9:09 into the period from Jacob Semik, and a two-man advantage goal from Logan Pietila at the 11:20 mark.

The Lumberjacks responded, cutting the deficit to 3-2 at the end of the first period with goals from Monte Graham and Mikael Hakkarainen at 15:03 and 16:27, respectively.

The teams traded single goals during the second period.  Muskegon tied the game 3-3 on Hakkarainen’s second goal at the 3:40 mark, then Dubuque regained the edge  with a goal from Jake Hale at 15:26.

The Lumberjacks were lucky to only trail by one after two periods. Dubuque shots hit the goal post twice in the second frame, and the Fighting Saints missed two open-net opportunities.

Muskegon tied the game 4-4 at the 11:03 mark of the third period on a goal from Vincent de Mey, before the Fighting Saints took their final lead on Disdale’s shorthanded goal at 15:09.

The Lumberjacks attempted to even the score for the third time during the contest, pulling their goaltender during the final minute, but failed to get the equalizer.

Muskegon’s Marc Del Gaizo had three assists while Matej Pekar added two.

Zach Borgiel stopped 20 of 25 shots in net for the Lumberjacks.