GENEVA – The Chicago Steel began their final weekend of the regular season Friday night against the Muskegon Lumberjacks at Fox Valley Ice Arena, one last grueling stretch of three games in as many days.
So far, so good.
The Steel (25-26-3) jumped all over the Lumberjacks (27-25-7) with a pair of first period goals and controlled the game defensively to take a 5-1 victory. In his final game with the the Steel on the season before moving on to the U18 World Championships for Team Slovakia next week, Samuel Bucek doubled his season total with a pair of goals.
“We had great passing and a lot of great opportunities. We're very happy with five goals,” Bucek said. “We had a good pre-scout before the game, so we know what Muskegon is playing like. We had a great system by coach [Dan Muse], and had an aggressive forecheck. We did a great job.”
Just 83 seconds into the first period, Steel defenseman Billy Sweezey got on the board on the team's first shot of the game. After Max Zimmer worked his way into the corner, he hit Sweezey with a pass while streaking in unchecked from the blue line. Sweezey hesitated only for an instant before lifting a backhanded wrist shot in the upper corner of the net for just his third goal of the season.
On one of their three power plays of the first period, the Steel padded their lead with another quick strike. Chicago won the faceoff and immediately found Haralds Egle pushing toward the net. With just one defender to beat, Egle slipped a pass under a Lumberjacks defender's stick and found a wide-open Bucek on the other side of the net. The winger easily put it away just 10 seconds into power play to give the Steel a two goal advantage.
“[Egle] gave me a great pass,” Bucek said. “It's very exciting [to score]. I want to have that feeling more and more.”
Getting on the board early is paramount against the Lumberjacks. Muskegon is 17-1-1-3 when leading after the first period, but the Steel were sharper from the initial puck drop before a crowd of 925.
Steel goaltender Daniel Vladar wasn't challenged often Friday night, recording only 24 saves on the night, but it was his offense that carried the heavy load. Marc Johnstone added a goal to push the Steel's lead to 3-0 in the second period. Zimmer and Bucek added insurance goals 71 seconds apart in the third period to reach the 5-1 final.
Chicago has been particularly effective against Muskegon this season, finishing with a 4-1-1 record against the Lumberjacks with a plus-12 goal differential.
This was the third straight victory for the Steel, and the club has been showing resiliency despite not being in contention to make an appearance in the USHL playoffs, which start later this month.