|MUSKEGON, MI- On a night that featured 74 shots in total, only three beat Czech goaltenders Ales Stezka and Adam Brizgala, with Brizgala and the Muskegon Lumberjacks emerging victorious 3-1.|
The first-place Steel fell in regulation for just the sixth time all season, and the Jacks avenged a 5-1 loss they suffered to Chicago back on December 17.
Stezka was excellent on the night, making 31 saves on 33 shots before heading to the bench for an extra skater. Keeghan Howdeshell buried his second of the night into the empty net, sealing the Jacks’ win.
As good as Stezka was, he was outdueled by countryman Brizgala, who was remarkable in stopping 39 of 40 Steel shots in the win.
Before potting the empty-netter, Howdeshell led the scoring off in the second period. Casey Gilling grabbed the puck off a deflection between the hash marks, faked the shot to get Stezka out of position, and then found Howdeshell on the back door, who tapped the puck in under the diving stick of Stezka.
Howdeshell netted his second straight two-goal game, giving him six on the season.
The Jacks would add to the lead early in the second when Jachym Kondelik corralled a loose puck on top of the crease and tucked it past a sprawling Stezka. It was Kondelik’s third of the season and came on the Belle Tire power play.
Tyler Gratton spoiled the shutout with 4:09 to play in the third when he got behind the Muskegon defense and sniped a wrister over the glove of Brizgala from the left circle.
The Steel forced a flurry of pucks on net before the conclusion of the game, but Brizgala stood tall and Howdeshell’s empty-netter closed out the Muskegon victory with five seconds remaining.
The Muskegon PK has been an issue this season, and ranked 15th of 17 USHL teams entering play tonight. However, they stymied a potent Steel power play unit, killing all eight penalties they took. Twice the Jacks were shorthanded by two men, and both times Brizgala and the killers came up with an answer.
Brizgala improves to 7-5-2 on the year while Stezka falls to 12-4-2.
Marcus Russell gathered in his first-career USHL point in the win, assisting Howdeshell’s empty-net goal primarily.
Muskegon is riding a season-best five-game point streak. They hit the road next week for a pair against Madison and then a Monday matinee game against Team USA. The weekend games begin at 8:05pm EST and Monday’s game is a 2:00pm puck drop. All three games will be aired on 92.5 Nash Icon, the Lumberjacks’ flagship station.
Muskegon goals: Howdeshell (5,6), Kondelik (3)
Muskegon assists: Gilling (8), Zach Berzolla (10), Koby Bender (8), Marc Del Gaizo (5), Marcus Russell (1), Jack McNeely (3)