MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks are going through a tough patch, but they still have a lot of fight in them.

Fans had to be worried about a potential bloodbath headed into Saturday night’s home game against the very elite Team USA 18-Under squad at Muskegon’s Trinity Health Arena.

The Jacks were in the midst of a three-game losing streak against lesser teams, and it’s really hard to beat the super-talented 18-Unders, even under the best of circumstances.

The Lumberjacks lost, which was not surprising, but they certainly didn’t run and hide. After falling behind 3-0 in the first period, they battled back to within one goal twice in the second period before eventually falling 7-4.

The Lumberjacks’ Michael Callow tries to work his way through the Team USA defense. Photo/Tonya Pardon

They managed to throw some substantial offense at the visitors, outshooting the 18-Unders 38-28.

“All year long, I don’t think these guys have ever folded up,” said Lumberjacks coach Parker Burgess. “Tonight we got down 3-0 and that was a tough one to get out of, but we tried a couple of times, and then it just got too far away from us.”

Burgess pointed out that the Jacks coughed the puck up a few too many times during the game, and turnovers can be deadly against teams like the 18-Unders.

“The biggest thing for us is, when you play these skilled teams, if you’re careless with puck management they make you pay,” the coach said. “When we made mistakes they were catastrophic mistakes and they ended up in the back of the net.

Muskegon’s Matvei Gridin, who scored a goal on Saturday night. Photo/Tonya Pardon

“That comes down to a focus on managing the puck the right way and managing the game the right way.”

The Lumberjacks lost their fourth straight and fell to 15-17-2 on the season. They will return to action next weekend with a pair of games in Cedar Rapids.

“It’s hard, because these guys put in a lot of work and they care a lot,” Burgess said about the losing streak. “The last few weekends we didn’t win every game, but I thought we were trending in the right direction. This weekend we showed up in spurts, but not enough to be successful in this league.

“Knowing this group and the leadership we have, as disappointing and frustrating as this has been, I have no doubt that we will come back on Monday with a lot of resolve. and we will put a lot of work in to make sure we right the ship.”

Team USA took early control of the game with three consecutive first-period goals – two by Gabe Perreault at the 6:34 and 7:56 marks, respectively, and one by Ryan Leonard at 11:06.

Muskegon’s Luke Buss (8) tries to get the puck away from an opponent. Photo/Tonya Pardon

Nathan McBrayer put the Jacks on the board at 16:57 of the first period, and Team USA headed into the second with a 3-1 lead.

The Jacks showed some real grit in the second period, scoring two of the first three goals.

Captain Owen Mehlenbacher found the mark just 57 seconds into the period, pulling the Jacks within one goal at 3-2. Team USA answered at the 6:14 mark with another goal from Perreault, completing his three-goal hat trick.

Muskegon scored again at the 6:59 mark when rookie Matvei Gridin broke in on goal and found the net with a beautiful backhand shot. Suddenly it was a game once again, with Muskegon trailing 4-3.

Muskegon’s Jake Richard (19) moves toward the Team USA goal. Photo/Tonya Pardon

Team USA answered yet again, however, with two goals to close the second period. Salvatore Guzzo scored at 8:26 and Oliver Moore followed suit at 13:46, giving the visitors a 6-3 lead headed into the third.

Muskegon’s Jake Richard scored on a rebound, with assists from Mehlenbacher and Ethan Whitcomb, at 13:08 of the third period on a power play.

Team USA’s Will Smith put in an empty-netter at 18:31 to close out the scoring.

Lumberjacks goalie Raythan Robbins took the loss, stopping 21 of 27 shots. Team USA goalie Trey Augustine made 24 saves in the win.