By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
But the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ usually powerful offense was in slumber mode for the second straight night, resulting in a disappointing 4-1 loss to the elite Team USA Under-18 squad in front of 2,895 fans.
The loss, coupled with a 1-0 overtime shootout defeat to Fargo on Friday, represented the first time this season the Jacks have lost two games in two nights at home. It was only the second time they have lost two straight home games.
Overall they are 13-6-1 on Walker Arena ice.
Muskegon still sports an outstanding 27-8-3 season record and remains in first place by 10 points in the USHL’s Eastern Conference.
The Jacks will be on the road next weekend, starting with a Friday night game in Sioux City.
“Teams are playing us tougher,” said Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton. “It’s kind of been the trend the last few weeks. It’s like playoff hockey right now, and we’ve got to find a way to fight through and get more pucks to the net.
“We defended pretty well, but our forwards need to step up and find a way to bring more offense. Teams are adjusting and taking away our skill, forcing us to change our style of game.
“We are going through a tough portion of the schedule, and at the end of the day it will make us a better hockey team.”
After going scoreless in regulation and an overtime period on Friday, most Lumberjack fans probably expected the team to explode on the scoreboard on Saturday. After all, Muskegon came into the game first in the league with 152 goals, nine more than second-place Waterloo.
But things did not start out promising when the Jacks were outshot by Team USA 18-3 in the first period. Muskegon did not get a shot on goal for the first 15 minutes of the game.
The Jacks actually dodged a bullet in the period, because the visitors only cashed in on one shot, an unassisted goal by Trevor Zegras just 2:05 into the game.
The Lumberjacks’ offense came alive in the second period, outshooting Team USA 14-11.
They tied the game at the 7:58 mark of the second when Mikael Hakkarainen took a sweet pass in front of the net from teammate Alex Yakovenko and deposited the puck in the net, making the score 1-1.
The goal was Hakkarainen’s 13th of the season, and gave him his 1,000th career point in the USHL. It was also the Lumberjacks’ first goal in 93 minutes of regulation and overtime hockey, going back to their game in Lincoln on Jan. 20.
But Team USA’s John Beecher found the net at the 15:05 mark, and his team went into the second intermission with a 2-1 lead.
The visitors iced the victory with two goals in the third period, from Domenick Fensore at the 7:11 mark and Zegras at 10:28.
Team USA ended up with a huge 46-22 advantage in shots. Spencer Knight got the win in goal for the visitors, while Muskegon’s Brandon Bussi took the loss, dropping his record to 24-6-3 on the season.