MUSKEGON – You might expect Raythan Robbins to be one tired goalie.
The Muskegon Lumberjacks netminder used to share goalie duties with teammate Conor Callaghan, but he’s been going solo for the past seven games, since Callaghan has been out with an injury.
It hasn’t been easy on Robbins, because the Jacks were outshot badly in all but one of those games.
But he’s been rising to the challenge exceptionally well, keeping Muskegon in game after game when the stats suggest a potential blowout.
Robbins had his very best game of his recent hot streak on Friday, stopping 35 of 37 shots and leading the Lumberjacks to a stunning 4-2 victory over the elite Team USA 18-Under squad at Trinity Health Arena.
Forward Michael Callow led the way with two goals.
“It was kind of weird being on green ice, but I guess it worked,” said Robbins, referring to the St. Patrick’s Day coloring of the ice surface at the arena. “I felt good today overall and the boys are gelling at the right time and we are working well together.”
“They are definitely a great team,” Robbins added about the 18-Under squad. “They haven’t lost a lot of games and there is a lot of talent. To beat them is special. We need to find a way to get a point or two tomorrow.”
The victory was huge for the Jacks, who are struggling in the standings but have been putting up a fighting effort every game.
Very few USHL teams beat the USA 18-under squad, a collection of elite junior prospects who regularly play and beat Division 1 college and international competition.
Coming into Friday’s game, the 18-Unders were 15-4 against USHL squads this season, including a 2-0 record against the Lumberjacks.
But the Jacks kept their heads up on Friday after falling behind early and pulled out the win.
They did it with excellent special teams play, which has not always been the case throughout the season.
Muskegon scored two power play goals, then iced the victory with a shorthanded open-net goal in the third period.
The Lumberjacks also killed off four of five Team USA power plays.
The Jacks were outshot yet again – 37-22 – but found a way to get their second straight victory.
“We talked about what it’s going to take to get great results against this team, and winning the special teams battle was one of them,” said Lumberjacks coach Parker Burgess. “The power play went 2-for-2, and our penalty kill was tremendous.
“It’s not an easy thing to do. The guys cared and came together, and they treated every shift like it mattered and I am really proud of them.”
Unfortunately the win did not help the Lumberjacks gain any ground in the standings, more specifically the race for the sixth and final playoff spot in the USHL’s Eastern Conference.
Muskegon improved to 22-24-3 on the season, good for 47 points in the standings. Cedar Rapids, currently in sixth place, defeated Madison on Friday and remains 10 points (five wins) ahead of the Lumberjacks.
The Jacks will visit the 18-Unders in the second game of a weekend home-and-home series on Saturday. They will return home for two crucial games next Friday and Saturday against Cedar Rapids.
Team USA took a 1-0 lead with a goal from Ryan Leonard at 5:38 of the first period.
Callow tied the game with a goal at 10:28 of the first.
Muskegon’s George Fegaras put the Jacks on top with the only goal of the second period, at the 14-minute mark.
Callow added his second goal on a power play at 2:30 of the third period, putting Muskegon up 3-1. Team USA pulled within a goal when Gabe Perrault scored at the 10:20 mark, but the Lumberjacks put the game away with an empty-net, shorthanded goal by Cody Croal at 17:34.
The Jacks’ final goal came when Team USA had a two-skater advantage due to the power play and pulling their goalie for an extra attacker.