By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart

MUSKEGON – You know the Muskegon Lumberjacks have an impressive opponent in town when big names from the hockey world show up to watch.

Detroit Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland was at L.C. Walker Arena for Saturday’s game. So was former Red Wing great Steve Yzerman, who until recently was general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They came to scout the elite Team USA Under-18 squad, which has eight players who are currently projected to be picked in the first round of next summer’s National Hockey League draft.

The USA squad lived up to its reputation, walking away with an 8-3 victory in front of 2,637 fans at the arena. The loss was the first of the season for the Lumberjacks, who have been the talk of the United States Hockey League after winning their first eight games of the season.

Muskegon’s Nolan Sullivan weaves his way through the Team USA defenders for a shot on goal. Photo/Jason Goorman

The Jacks will get a rematch with the Team USA Under-18s in a special Thursday morning home game at 10:30 a.m.

“We played them twice in the preseason, so we know what they have,” said Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton. “If you don’t play disciplined they will make you pay. I feel we didn’t do a good job of picking up guys without pucks. You have to take away the backdoor goals. We got a little away from our game plan, but we will learn from it.”

The Lumberjacks proved they could play with Team USA though the first two periods, when the two talented teams kept trading blows.

Muskegon’s Bobby Lynch opened the scoring with his fifth goal of the season at 6:09 of the first period. Team USA tied the score about three minutes later on a goal by Henry Thrun. The Jacks pulled back in the lead with an Owen Farris goal at 11:07, then Team USA struck back with a goal by Cole Caufield.

The score was tied 2-2 after one period.

Matthew Boldy scored to give the visitors a 3-2 lead at 7:36 of the second period, then Muskegon’s Nolan Sullivan answered less than a minute later to tie the game.

But it was all Team USA after that.

Christoffer Bjork watches a loose puck flip through the air near the Team USA net. Photo/Jason Goorman

Caufield scored his second goal at 10:25 of the second, and Trevor Zegras followed at 17:47, and Team USA led 5-3 at the second intermission.

The Lumberjacks pulled starting goalie Brandon Bussi, who has been outstanding all season, midway through the second period, in favor of Keegan Karki. Bussi stopped 12 of 16 shots during his time on the ice.

Hamilton said the goalie switch was not punitive – he just thought a change might help.

“I was trying to spark the team a little bit, but we didn’t respond,” the coach said.

Team USA finished the scoring in the third period with goals by John Beecher, Caufield and Ryder Ralston. Caufield’s goal, his third of the game, came on an empty-netter with 2:21 left.

The Lumberjacks had a 33-30 shot advantage.