By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
MUSKEGON – There was no way the Muskegon Lumberjacks could continue such an amazing pace.
The Jacks opened the season with 11 wins in their first 12 games, and were starting to seem pretty invincible.
That streak included four wins in four tries against the Youngstown Phantoms, including a decisive 8-2 victory on Friday.
Apparently the Phantoms had all they could take, because they rallied for two late goals on Saturday and handed the Lumberjacks a 4-3 loss in front of 3,115 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
The game-winning goal came from Youngstown’s Brett Murray with 37 seconds left in regulation.
They Jacks are now 11-2 in the season and remain in first place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. They will complete their three-game weekend with a visit to second-place Central Illinois on Sunday at 5 p.m. EST.
“They definitely outworked us tonight and they deserved the outcome,” said Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton. “We should be disappointed in our effort. We didn’t rebound the way we should after a good game yesterday, and the other team deserved to win.”
The game marked the first start of the season for Muskegon goalie Keegan Karki, who performed well as the starter for most of 2017-18, then was injured during the preseason this year, opening the door for Brandon Bussi.
Bussi started all of the previous 12 games so far this season and played extremely well, posting the third lowest goals against average in the league.
But with three games this weekend, Lumberjacks Coach Mike Hamilton decided it was time to get Karki in the lineup. He did reasonably well, stopping 27 of 31 Youngstown shots, but surrendered two goals in the last six minutes to take the loss.
“I thought he made some saves he shouldn’t have, and I thought he let in a couple he shouldn’t have,” Hamilton said “At the end of the day I thought he did his job, we just didn’t support him. Our offense was very minimal today.”
Youngstown grabbed a 1-0 lead with a goal from Murray at 8:57 of the first period. Muskegon pulled ahead 2-1 with first-period tallies by Egor Afanasyev and Alex Gaffney.
Youngstown’s Jack Malone scored early in the second period to tie the score 2-2, then the Jacks went ahead again with a goal from Bobby Lynch at the 9:12 mark.
But the 3-2 Muskegon lead fell part in the third period. Thomas Farrell scored for Youngstown at the 10:17 mark, then Murray scored his second goal of the night at 19:23 to nail down the victory for the Phantoms.
The winning goalie was Youngstown’s Jon Mor.