MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks have plenty of time to figure out which players can best help them make a Clark Cup run next spring.
They started getting a few clues on Friday night when they hosted the Chicago Steel in their first preseason game and fell 4-3 at Trinity Health Arena.
The Steel scored three unanswered second period goals to break a first period tie, then held on to defeat the Jacks.
The two teams will face off again on Saturday night in a preseason rematch in Chicago.
The Lumberjacks will host preseason games against Youngstown on Monday and Tuesday before closing their home preseason schedule next Friday against Team USA.
Muskegon will open the regular season with a pair of games in Pittsburgh on September 22 and 23 against Sioux Falls and Tri-City, respectively, before hosting the first regular season home game on Sept. 30 against the Steel.
“I think we were playing a little bit more as a team during the third period,” said Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton. “We continued to get better, but we are obviously a long way away on how we want to play.
“The positive is how we responded in the third, but I really didn’t like our compete level in the first and second periods.”
The Steel opened the scoring with a breakaway goal from Cameron Johnson 1:56 into the contest.
Gavin McCarthy tied the game with the Lumberjacks’ first goal of the preseason on a wrist shot that went just past the crossbar at the 17:51 mark of the opening period.
The Steel exploded for three unanswered goals during the second period to take a 4-1 lead.
Chris Delaney gave Chicago a 2-1 advantage with a goal 1:18 into the middle period.
The Steel then added a power play goal by Jayden Perron and another goal by Delaney.
The Lumberjacks fought back in the third period, starting with McCarthy’s second goal on a power play at the 9:50 mark.
“Carts (McCarthy) looked good tonight,” Hamilton said. “Not only with the goals he scored, but I thought he also made some great plays with puck possession, and I think he was clearly our best player tonight. We will need some more players to step up their game.”
Jake Richard added a goal with a shot right in front of the Chicago net at the 11:21 mark to cut the Lumberjacks’ deficit to 4-3.
The Jacks had a glorious chance to get the equalizer with 1:52 left in regulation when Tyler Hotson was awarded a penalty shot after being interfered with by a Steel player on a breakaway.