MUSKEGON, MICHIGAN — The top two teams in the USHL’s Eastern Conference ended the 2018 calendar year with a goaltending clinic on each side as the Muskegon Lumberjacks beat the Chicago Steel 2-0 Monday night at L.C. Walker Arena. In a New Year’s Eve duel, Muskegon (23-5-1-0, 47 pts.) goaltender Brandon Bussi stopped all 28 shots he faced while Chicago (16-11-1-0, 33 pts.) netminder Reilly Herbst turned aside 27.
Neither team was able to find the net in the first 34 minutes of the game. Then, with 5:46 to play in the second period, Muskegon forward Egor Afanasyev broke the scoreless game. The Russian forward wove his way to the top of the slot where his heavy wrist shot found room over the blocker of Herbst. The two netminders combined for 16 saves before either was beat, including big saves on each side to keep the game scoreless.
The goaltenders continued to battle, trading off key saves in the final period. With 3:45 to play, Herbst slammed the door on a partial breakaway chance for Muskegon forward Bobby Lynch as the Lumberjacks skater attempted to go five-hole on a forehand-backhand move. Less than 45 seconds later, Lumberjacks defenseman Colby Bukes, who picked up the lone assist on the first goal of the game, made a sliding play to break up a two-on-one opportunity for Steel left wing Gunnarwolfe Fontaine and center Jake Schmaltz.
Chicago head coach Greg Moore took his timeout with 1:28 as the Steel drew up a play with Herbst pulled for the extra attacker. Chicago won the ensuing faceoff but Muskegon gained control of the puck. Despite a diving effort by Steel defenseman Matteo Pietroniro, Lumberjacks forward Nolan Sullivan delivered the dagger, an empty net goal, with 1:11 to play.
The Steel were able to stay out of penalty trouble as their only call against came as part of a coincidental minor near the end of the first period. Chicago was unable to convert on the powerplay, going 0-for-3 against the league’s best penalty kill.
The Steel return to action this Friday, Jan. 4 at Fox Valley Ice Arena for a 7:05 p.m. CT faceoff against the Madison Capitols on Hip Hop and Hockey Night. It is the first of seven home games in January for the Steel. Chicago travels to Central Illinois for a 7:07 p.m. faceoff on Saturday, Jan. 5 at Grossinger Motors Arena to close out the first weekend of the new calendar year.
Tickets for all Steel home games are on sale now starting at just $10 and stadium seating on the glass is available for just $20. Parking is always free. The Steel offer discounted tickets for groups and are offering a special Holiday Pack, which includes three games and four gifts for just $40.
For more information, call 855-51-STEEL or visit ChicagoSteelHockeyTeam.com.