By Dave Hart
MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks are off to an incredible start to their season.
One reason is their ability to take advantage when they have a man advantage on the ice.
The Lumberjacks really showed off their power-play prowess on Friday, scoring four times in five opportunities in an 8-2 victory over the Youngstown Phantoms in front of 2,356 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
Muskegon is now 11-1 on the season, good for 22 points and first place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. The Lumberjacks currently have a seven-point lead over second place Central Illinois.
Muskegon will host the Phantoms in a rematch on Saturday night, before traveling to Central Illinois on Sunday.
“We got off to a slow start and the boys didn’t really care how we played in the first,” said Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton. “But they responded well and took over in the second period.
“We are really focused on simplifying our power play by getting more pucks to the net. We are trying to change our passing-to-shooting ratio.”
Mikael Hakkarainen has been a huge part of the recent success, scoring four power play goals in the last two home games.
Hakkarainen led Muskegon on the night with three goals and an assist, while Egor Afanasyev and Alex Gaffney each added a goal and an assist. Bobby Lynch and Christoffer Bjork chipped in with two assists apiece.
“We made some switches with our power play unit, where they will look for me for a one-timer,” said Hakkarainen. “I think it worked really well, but they will make adjustments for tomorrow’s game.”
The Phantoms opened the scoring at the 15:35 mark of the first period on a power play goal by Brett Murray.
The Lumberjacks tied the game 1-1 with a goal from Hakkarainen 37 seconds into the second period.
Youngstown regained its lead with a shorthanded goal at the 1:52 mark of the second period from Craig Needham.
Muskegon responded with two quick power play goals from Gaffney and Hakkarainen, at the 3:02 and 3:52 marks, respectively, to give the Lumberjacks a 3-2 edge.
The Lumberjacks increased their lead to 4-2 with an Afanasyev goal at 6:39 of the second period.
The Lumberjacks finished the game strong with four unanswered third-period goals.
Matt Staudacher scored at the 3:47 mark, Nolan Sullivan added a power play tally at 5:54, James McIsaac chipped in with a goal at 6:16, and Hakkarainen closed out the scoring at the 9:39 mark.
The Lumberjacks outshot Youngstown by a 34-24 margin.
Muskegon goalkeeper Brandon Bussi stopped 22 of 24 Phantom shots.