The impact has been obvious, with the Jacks falling 3-1 to the Dubuque Fighting Saints on Saturday at the Mystique Ice Center in Dubuque, Iowa. The Jacks also lost to Dubuque on Friday in the first of the two-game weekend series.
“That is part of the game,” said Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton about having to play without key guys in the lineup. “At the end of the day you have to find a way to give yourself a chance to win, and we had our chances tonight.”
The Lumberjacks are now 9-11-2 on the season, good for 20 points and seventh place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference standings. Dubuque improved to 16-3-1.
The challenging stretch of the schedule will continue for the Lumberjacks on Wednesday when they visit the elite Team USA Under-18 squad in Plymouth. Michigan, then return home on Friday to play the same team. Gushchin and Pitlick will still be absent for both of those games.
The Lumberjacks failed to find the net on all four of its power play opportunities on Saturday, costing them a chance to gain a big win against a quality opponent.
“We failed on a couple of key power plays during the third period,” Hamilton said. “We had some great chances but missed on an open net. It just wasn’t meant to be for us tonight.”
The Lumberjacks opened the scoring 3:10 into the first period on a goal from Alex Gaffney. Muskegon led 1-0 at the first break despite being outshot 14-9.
The Fighting Saints responded with two answered goals in the second period, by Dylan Jackson and Ryan Beck, to take a 2-1 advantage heading into the final stanza.
The Fighting Saints closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal by Riese Gaber with 18 seconds left in the contest.
Dubuque outshot the Lumberjacks 40-22. Noah Giesbrecht took the hard-luck loss in goal for the Jacks, stopping 37 of the 39 shots he faced.