By Dave Hart
The Jacks allowed three first-period goals, two while shorthanded, and early on it looked like it could be a lopsided defeat for the home team.
But Muskegon fought back and had the game tied early in the third period before Amine Hajibi scored the game-winning goal with just over three minutes left in the contest as the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders escaped with a narrow 4-3 victory over the Jacks.
The Lumberjacks struggles continue as the team has now lost three in a row and six out of the last seven contests.
Muskegon will look to snap out of its current funk next weekend on the road when they face the Tri-City Storm for a pair of games. Friday’s contest will start at 8 p.m. while Saturday’s game will be at 7 p.m.
The Jacks, who were near the top of the standings just a few weeks ago, are suddenly 8-6-2 on the season, good for 18 points and a tie for fifth place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. The top six teams in each conference are awarded a spot in the USHL Clark Cup Playoffs and the Lumberjacks currently hold the last spot at this point of the season with a ton of hockey left to play.
“The kids played hard for 40 minutes, but they (Cedar Rapids) got a couple lucky ones during the first period,” said Lumberjacks head coach Parker Burgess. “We had some chances early but that is a team that defends super hard. Hockey is not always fair and there is puck luck that is involved.”
The RoughRiders opened the scoring 6:24 into the opening period on a goal from Jack Larrigan on a shot from the left faceoff circle.
Cedar Rapids then received its first power play of the contest at the 8:42 mark and managed to score just before the penalty ended. Joel Kjellberg found the back of the night on a shot from the blue line to increase the RoughRiders lead to 2-0 at the 10:39 into the opening period.
Muskegon committed another penalty just over a minute later and once again paid the price. Aiden Welch scored for Cedar Rapids 13:12 into the first period to give Cedar Rapids a 3-0 advantage.
The Lumberjacks called a much-needed timeout, then pulled starting goaltender Lukas Swedin for backup Paxton Geisel.
Swedin stopped 3-of-6 shots faced in only 13 minutes of play.
Despite a disappointing opening of the first period, the Jacks outshot Cedar Rapids 12-10 during the first 20 minutes of play.
Muskegon finally got on the board 11:06 into the second period just seconds after the Lumberjacks failed to score on its third power play of the game. David Klee took a loose puck right in front of the Cedar Rapids net and buried it home for his third goal of the season to cut the Lumberjacks deficit to a 3-1 margin.
Cedar Rapids held on to its two-goal advantage heading into the final stanza of regulation despite being outshot 22-14 by the Lumberjacks.
The Jacks inched a little bit closer early in the third period at the 3:13 mark as Joe Connor put the puck in the net for his fourth goal of the season to cut Muskegon’s deficit to 3-2.
Muskegon tied the game while shorthanded as Xavier Veilleux scored his first goal of the season on a hard shot from the blue line while in transition. That tied the contest 4:58 into the third period.
The RoughRiders ended Muskegon’s momentum with the game-winning goal from Hajibi 16:50 into the third period.
The Lumberjacks outshot Cedar Rapids 33-19.
Muskegon struggled on the man advantage, going 0-for-3 while the RoughRiders were 2-for-5 on the power play.
Geisel had a solid outing in net for Muskegon, stopping 12-of-13 shots faced in relief.
“He came in and did his job,” Burgess said. “He kept us in the game and gave us a chance. It was just a tough one in the end.”