The Lumberjacks got off to a good start and dominated play. The Phantoms, for their part, were on their heels pretty much from the drop of the puck and had a hard time trying to get out of first gear. Their transition game, especially their lack of ability to move the puck through the neutral zone, was obvious from the start. The 'Jacks scored first, Dylan Wendt ripped a shot on goal, with Sholl making the stop but the long rebound went right to the stick of Cameron Berg to pot a goal in a yawning net at 4:11 of the first. The Phantoms were outshot 14-4 in the first.
The Phantoms were outshot in the second 11-4 but still evened it up. Reilly Funk picked up his 3rd of the season picking off a Danil Gushchin pass just inside the 'Jacks blueline. Funk skated to the crease unobstructed and ripped a shot that beat Christian Stover stick side at the 10:00 mark. The real story of the middle frame was the netminding of Mattias Sholl. Shortly before the Funk goal, he made a save on an odd man rush for the 'Jacks. A give and go play with Tyler Dunbar feeding Philip Tresca made Sholl have to nearly split himself in two but the Phantoms netminder stopped the puck and covered it. Moment after the Funk goal, Ben Strinden got a pair of shots on net from the slot, Sholl making the first save challenging the shot well out of the crease and the second caugh in the glove from a sitting position several feet outside the blue paint.
The Phantoms still could not muster the offensive push in the third but Sholl's netminding held us in it until late. A misplayed puck the the 'Jacks blueline by Grant Hindman led to a 2-on-1 with Reilly Funk as the only Phantoms really in contention to make a play. Gushchin carried the puck and Funk ended up trying to play him instead of John Farinacci, who took the pass from Gushchin and put it home with 2:09 left in regulation. The Phantoms did not get much if anything on net in the remaining time and the 'Jacks added the empty net. Shots in the 3rd were 13-5 Muskegon and 38-13 'Jacks overall.
So, the good part. The Phantoms were pretty much outplayed and Sholl kept them in it until the end. None of the goals were easy ones he should feel bad about, they weren't his fault. I know there will probably still be some discussion about his size regardless, but I think last nights performance showed that his speed and athleticism more than compensate. He skates well, his movement in the crease and out to challenge is fast and crisp and when he goes down to make a play he gets back up as fast as anyone we've seen in a while.
Another story was the return of Jack Malone, a refugee from the Ivy League (Cornell). He was on a line with Gerogi Merkulov and the chemistry between those two was apparent early on. Even though they did not factor in on the scoresheet, it'll be something to watch for as we progress in the season. Jack Silitch played well on the line but we're a Jack Mesic or Connor McGrath away from another 3M line (Jack Malone, Brett Murray, Connor MacEachern) like we had back in 18-19.
We'll be back at it tonight. The good news is we might get a wave of players returning to active duty for the second game of the weekend and maybe even more next week. Any bit helps and hopefully we'll see a very different output from the team tonight.
Last nights attendance was better than I expected. Most seasons 449 would not be something to feel good about but in the early part of the 20-21 season, it might be a small victory. With all the expected pandemic mitigation efforts in effect, it was a surprisingly normal feel. And for the most part, fans did what they were asked. There were a few times the Covelli staff had to remind people to mask up and socially distance, and there were 1 or 2 instances where it looked like there was some push back but the crew took care of most everything very well and the Phantoms and Covelli staff deserve a huge stick tap for their efforts.
To the few groups that were a problem - just stop it already. It only takes one or two people not only to ruin hockey for the rest of us but you endanger the whole arena, team and Covelli staff.
Anyway, I wish I got both Sholl saves on video but I only got the first. So here is the first highlight in forever, and I think it speaks volumes.
Sholl throws the leg pads out for a big save!