By Dave Hart
The Lumberjacks earned an extra point they had to work hard for on Friday night against the defending Clark Cup Champions.
Muskegon jumped out to a two-goal lead before allowing three unanswered goals to fall behind late in the contest.
The Jacks fought back to tie the game and force an overtime period, but the game needed a shootout to decide a winner and Muskegon went a perfect 3-for-3 to nail down the extra point in a 4-3 win over the Youngstown Phantoms at Trinity Health Arena.
Ty Henricks, Sacha Boisvert and Matvei Gridin each scored during the shootout to earn the victory for the Lumberjacks.
Muskegon is now 25-14-2 on the season, good for 52 points and second place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference standings. The Lumberjacks are currently just three points behind first-place Dubuque.
The Jacks will look to maintain their current success Saturday night against the Phantoms. Faceoff is slated for 7:10 p.m.
“We have been working on getting off to a better start,” said Lumberjacks assistant coach Evan Trupp. “We did that today, but trying to get the guys to play a full 60 minutes is the challenge right now, but we are learning.”
The Lumberjacks opened the scoring at the 11:39 mark of the first period as Cooper Pierson took a pass from Cody Croal in front of the net and wristed home the puck.
Croal increased the Lumberjacks lead to 2-0 at the 15:40 mark when he took the puck inside the neutral zone and found an open lane to the net for a breakaway goal.
Muskegon led 2-0 through the first 20 minutes of play despite getting outshot by 15-10.
The Phantoms opened the second-period scoring with a goal from Ryan Botterill at the 1:35 mark to cut their deficit to 2-1.
The Lumberjacks had a couple of chances to retake their two-goal lead with a pair of power plays at the 12:17 and 14:49 marks of the second period, respectively. Muskegon failed to connect while on the man advantage.
Youngstown completed the two-goal comeback, scoring on a power play late in the middle period at the 18:50 mark with a goal from Grant Young.
The Lumberjacks outshot Youngstown 15-7 during the second period and had an advantage of 25-22 in shots heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation.
Youngstown took its first lead of the night on a controversial goal at the 3:09 mark of the third period. The Phantoms scored just after one of their players was pushed into the net, causing potential goaltender interference. Ryan Rucinski was credited with the goal to give the Phantoms the 3-2 advantage.
After killing off a Youngstown power play, the Jacks were given an opportunity to score the equalizer with a man advantage. Ethan Whitcomb tied the contest 3-3 with a power-play goal just five seconds into the man advantage at the 12:01 mark.
The game got physical shortly thereafter as there was a fight between Joe Connor of the Lumberjacks and Youngstown’s Jack Willson that got the crowd buzzing.
Muskegon was given the extra penalty, but the Phantoms failed to score.
The game remained tied after regulation, forcing a five-minute overtime period of 3-on-3 hockey.
Both teams failed to put the puck into the net, forcing a three-round shootout.
The Lumberjacks scored on all three of their attempts during the shootout as Henricks, Boisvert and Gridin each found the back of the net.
“These guys take a lot of shootouts during the week,” Trupp said. “We get to watch them, and they are a tremendously skilled group. The hardest part is picking which guys to go out there.”
Youngstown’s Andrew Strathmann and Daniel Jencko scored shootout goals.
The Lumberjacks had 46-35 shots on goal advantage. Lumberjack goaltender Shikhabudtin Gadzhiev earned the win in net, stopping 32-of-35 shots, including one crucial stop during the shootout period.
Muskegon went 1-for-2 on the power play, while the Phantoms were 1-for-4 on their man advantages.
“You want to get hot during the right time of the year,” Trupp said. “That’s the time to start building towards being a championship team.”