By Ron Rop
And for good reason.
The Lumberjacks broke into the victory column with a hard-fought 6-5 overtime victory over league nemesis Chicago Steel. The game was played at Mercy Health Arena and served as the Lumberjacks home opener.
Muskegon came into the game winless in its first four games. Two of those losses were in regulation, one in overtime and one in a shoot out. It lifted a weight off the shoulders of the players and the coaching staff.
Friday’s overtime victory was decided just 44 second into the extra 5-minute period that features both teams skating 3-on-3. Quinn Hutson’s wrist shot sailed high over the left shoulder of the Steel goaltender and the celebration was on.
“We lost the faceoff but we got the puck back and I think (Noah) Ellis passed me the puck and it came in nice and slow and I hit the top corner,” Hutson said.
During regulation, the teams battled back and quite evenly throughout.
Joey Larson scored a three-goal hat trick while Quinn Hutson scored two, including the game-winner early in overtime.
“Larson was pretty special tonight, him and Hutson were able to put some pucks in the net,” said Jacks’ coach Mike Hamilton. “From a fan’s standpoint, it was an entertaining game to watch, but probably not so much fun to coach, but it was great to see in the third period, our will to win.”
However, giving up five goals did not sit so well with Hamilton.
“We have to clean up our details in our zone,” Hamilton said. “There is no excuse for us leaving the best guy in the league (Adam Fantilli) wide open in front of the net. That guy is a heckuva hockey player and you have to recognize when he’s on the ice. Defensively, we definitely have some errors to clean up.”
The first period didn’t start out so good as the Steel scored just 48 seconds into the game on their first shot on goal. Right wing Jackson Blake scored his fifth goal of the season the Steel were off and running.
Muskegon had a quick response, however, when Larson redirected a centering pass from captain Jack Williams just 45 seconds after Chicago had opened the scoring.
The Lumberjacks took a 2-1 lead after a brief scramble in front of the Steel net and their tall goaltender Gibson Homer. The puck was kicked out to Jacks’ defenseman Jacob Napier and his cross-ice pass found Jacob Guevin for his first goal of the season.
Before the period ended, the Steel evened the scoring on a goal by Jack Harvey.
Chicago was handed an early power play in the second period, but the Lumberjack penalty killers were equal to the task. However, 44 seconds after the penalty expired, Zam Plante gave the visitors a 3-2 lead.
That slim margin didn’t last long – exactly 45 seconds – because Hutson’s high wrist shot from the left faceoff circle found the net behind Homer. That goal came on the power play.
Chicago scored a power-play goal of its own 4 minutes later to take another one-goal margin, this time at 4-3. That’s the way the second period ended.
The Steel came out fast again in the third period and grabbed the game’s only two-goal margin. Harvey scored his second of the night. That goal came 27 seconds into the third period and also signaled the end of the night for Lumberjack starting goaltender Jan Skorpik.
In stepped Carson Limesand, a 19-year-old rookie netminder, who finished the game and earned his first USHL victory.
Larson brought the Jacks back to within 5-4 with a wrist shot from the left side. That goal, Larson’s second of the night, meant the Steel’s two-goal lead lasted a mere 30 seconds.
Larson completed the hat trick with a sharp-angled shot from the right corner that glanced off Homer and went in.
“I saw the goalie was off his angle and I just threw it on net,” said Larson, who now has four goals this season. “It’s good to finally get a win. Hard work paid off, we’ve been working hard so it’s good to finally get a win.”
When Chicago was issued a 4-minute penalty for high sticking, the Lumberjacks had ample opportunity to score a go-ahead goal in regulation, but the Steel killed it off and the final seconds of the third period clicked off the clock.
Along came overtime and Hutson’s heroics that decided a winner.
Muskegon had a 52-27 advantage in shots in the contest.
The teams will square off again at 7:10 p.m. Saturday night at Mercy Health Arena.
Check out photos shot by Leo Valdez.