By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
MUSKEGON – How does a really good team manage to lose to a really bad one, especially after beating that team five straight times, including a six-goal win the night before?
By committing a lot of penalties and allowing the bad team to cash in.
The Muskegon Lumberjacks were whistled for seven penalties on Wednesday night, and their penalty-killing unit failed to stop Dubuque from scoring on three power plays, leading to an ugly 5-3 loss to the lowly Fighting Saints at Mercy Health Arena.
The loss came after the Jacks had beaten Dubuque in all five prior meetings this season, including three games in three nights in Dubuque a few weeks ago, and an impressive 7-1 win at home on Tuesday night.
The Lumberjacks are now 8-5-0 on the season. The fell to third place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference standings with 17 points, two behind second-place Green Bay and four behind first-place Chicago.
Dubuque improved to 3-11 on the season, and managed to escape the Eastern Conference cellar with the win. The Fighting Saints now have six points on the season, two ahead of last-place Youngstown.
The Lumberjacks will return to action on Saturday night with a game in Plymouth, Michigan against Team USA.
Dubuque played a good part of Wednesday’s game with a man advantage, because the Jacks were called for three penalties in the first period, three in the second, and a costly one in the third, when they were trying to score a game-tying goal.
Three of the Lumberjacks penalties were on defenseman John Druskinis, who went to the penalty box for roughing in the first period, head contact in the second and interference in the third.
Muskegon Coach Mike Hamilton was not happy about the penalties, but he was particularly disappointed in the Jacks’ penalty-killing performance. Muskegon came into the game with the second-worst penalty kill percentage in the league, and it obviously continues to be a problem.
“At the end of it, were calls going our way? The answer is no,” Hamilton said. “But you just can’t keep putting yourself in that situation.
“We probably took four of them that we were not smart, knowing (the referees) were calling it tight, but at the end of it we got to kill penalties. We gave up three power play goals and you’re not going to win many hockey games if you can’t kill penalties.”
The Jacks, who looked so good in their dominating win on Tuesday, came out looking listless on Wednesday, and Dubuque took full advantage.
Robert Cronin opened the scoring for the Fighting Saints at 2:40 of the first period, then Stephen Halliday added a power play goal at 16:15, and Dubuque led 2-0 after one period.
Tristan Lemyre scored a power play goal at 10:03 of the second period, putting the visitors up 3-0.
The Lumberjacks finally came to life in the last part of the second period, collecting goals from Quinn Hutson at the 15:15 mark and Tanner Kelly two minutes later, making the score 3-2 at the second break. Hutson now has three goals in the last two games.
The Jacks battled hard for the equalizing goal for more than half of the third period. But their effort was hurt when Druskinis was called for his third penalty at 13:23, and Dubuque’s Daniyal Dzhaniyev responded with another power play goal, making the score 4-2.
Muskegon’s Dylan Wendt scored at 17:23 to pull the Jacks within one again, but Dubuque’s PJ Fletcher finished things off with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
Dubuque goalie Hobie Hedquist got the win, stopping 22 of 25 Lumberjack shots. Muskegon goalie Jan Skorpik stopped 17 of 22 shots.