Muskegon edged by league's top team in early game
MUSKEGON, Mich. (March 15, 2012)- Playing in front of over 3,000 school-age kids on Hockey for Health Day, the Muskegon Lumberjacks hung close to the Green Bay Gamblers before getting edged 2-1 by the USHL's best team Thursday afternoon.
The Lumberjacks' largest home crowd of the season watched defensemanZach Yoder score a goal in his league debut, as the Georgia native cut Green Bay's lead in half with seven minutes remaining in regulation.
But the Gamblers and goalieMichael Rotolo stifled the Lumberjacks (15-27-7, 37 points) the rest of the way to earn their third straight win and improve to 11-1-1 since Jan. 28. Green Bay (40-8-2, 82 points) has an 18-point lead on second-place Indiana for first in the Eastern Conference and is on the verge of clinching the Anderson Cup, given to the USHL's best regular season team.
Rotolo made 27 saves as the Lumberjacks outshot the Gamblers 28-26, including 21-13 over the final two periods. Muskegon goalieJohn Keeney, making his seventh straight start, denied 24 drives in a typically strong effort from the Californian.
The Jacks continue their stretch of three games in three days Friday night in Indianapolis, when they travel to face the Ice at the Pepsi Coliseum. Muskegon will seek to end its four-game winless streak (0-3-1) against a team it's beaten four times and taken to overtime twice more.
Goaltenders Keeney and Rotolo controlled the early portions of Thursday's matchup, which started at 10:30 a.m. to accommodate school scheduling. For the first time this year, a Lumberjacks game was scoreless entering the third period, but the deadlock didn't last long into the final frame.
The Gamblers' Nolan LaPorte took advantage of a good bounce on the first shift of the third to push the visitors ahead.Kyle Novak attempted to feed a pass behind the goal to Sam Herr, but the puck struck the outside of the net and caromed in front for LaPorte to bury just 15 seconds into the period.
The even-strength tally was LaPorte's team-best 29th, and the Western Michigan recruit would reach No. 30 less than five minutes later. During Green Bay's third (and final) power play of the day, defenseman Dakota Mermis sent a sharp pass to the left side of the crease for Novak, who tapped it in front to an open LaPorte.
Muskegon was soon rewarded for hard work when Green Bay'sGrant Arnold was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct midway through the third. The Jacks couldn't push the puck past Rotolo during their man advantage, but they did snap the shutout shortly after.
Following an icing call against the Gamblers,Mason Jobst won the offensive zone faceoff back to Travis Walsh, who slipped the puck to Yoder at the right point. His wrist shot through traffic beat Rotolo along the ice, giving the thousands of youngsters in attendance something to scream about.
The noise continued until the final buzzer, as the Jacks worked a 6-on-4 advantage in the dying seconds, with Keeney on the bench to complement a late Muskegon power play. However, the home team's efforts came up shy of the tying goal, giving Green Bay its fifth win in as many tries in the season series.
The puck drops from Indianapolis Friday night at 7:05 p.m. as the Lumberjacks tangle with the Ice for the final time this season. The Meijer Pregame Show begins at 6:35 on 92.5 The Outlaw with Voice of the Jacks Matt Gajtka on the call.
Muskegon returns home Saturday night to take on the National Under-17 Team at 7:15 p.m. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, draft beers will be green and $1 off the normal price!
Call the L.C. Walker Arena box office at 231.724.JACK(5225) for Lumberjacks tickets and information, or visit startickets.com or go to your local Meijer.
The Muskegon Lumberjacks are proud members of the United States Hockey League, the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league and the leading producer of NCAA players and National Hockey League draft picks in the United States. The Lumberjacks' organization prides itself on developing not just premier hockey talent, but also exceptional young men outside the arena of sports. For more information, visit muskegonlumberjacks.com.