By Dave Tomczak

MUSKEGON – The West Michigan weather wasn’t the only thing cold on Friday night.

The Muskegon Lumberjacks struggled in front of 2,755 home fans, and eventually fell to Fargo, 1-0, in an overtime shootout at L.C. Walker Arena.

MuskegonĀ is now 27-7-2-1 on the season, good for 57 points. The Lumberjacks maintain a 12-point lead over second-place Chicago in the USHL’s Eastern Conference.

Brandon Bussi makes a save for Muskegon. Photo/Jason Goorman

With no score after regulation, neither team scored in the five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime, setting up the shootout.

Each team sent out three shooters, and Fargo’s second shooter, Ben Myers, was the first to score.

The Jacks’ first two shooters failed before Danil Gushchin buried a shot in the top left corner, to even the goals at 1-1.

The next four shooters failed for both teams, before AJ Drobot scored for the Force.

That left it up to Muskegon’s Alex Gaffney, who found the back of the net to even things at 2-2.

Two shooters later, Libor Zabransky scored for Fargo, while Muskegon’s Declan Carlile came up short, and the Force skated away with the win.

Igor Afanasyev makes the pass past Fargo’s No. 7 Hank Crone. Photo/Jason Goorman

The fact that Muskegon was still in the game at the end of regulation was due to the efforts of goalie Brandon Bussil, who stopped 37 shots through three periods and overtime.

“He was just phenomenal,” said Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton. “The fact that we had a chance to win this game was 100 percent on him.”

Muskegon couldn’t get much going early on, managing only seven shots in the first period, while Fargo had 17.

The Lumberjacks had a power play opportunity just 52 seconds into the second period. But it was Fargo that nearly scored with two breakaway opportunities. The first ended with a shot that rang off the crossbar, and the second was knocked away by Bussi.

“The third period and overtime we played real well,” Hamilton said. “But we got off to a slow start. I don’t think we were ready, but we had our chances at the end and I’m proud of the guys for not giving up.”

Muskegon’s best scoring chance came with 5:12 left in the game, when Gushchin came out of the penalty box as the puck slid into the Force zone.

Gushchin skated in all alone but was knocked over by Force goalie Ryan Bischel, who skated to the blue line to meet him.

A tripping penalty was called against Fargo, but no penalty shot was awarded.

“According to how I understand the rule, it’s either a penalty shot or a goal is allowed,” Hamilton said. “The official saw it another way, and his way is always the right way.”

Fargo finished with a 37-32 shot advantage.