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Lakers battling consistency issues

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The only thing consistent for the Fort Frances Lakers this SIJHL season is inconsistent play.

That was the theme once again over the weekend as the squad had a great effort in taking down the visiting Red Lake Miners 5-2 on Friday night but came out flat and couldn’t muster much in a lethargic 3-0 loss to the expansion Wisconsin Lumberjacks on Family Day afternoon here.

“We were very soft, no intensity on our end and they’re a hardworking team and capitalized on a few of our breakdowns and mental mistakes,” Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said after Monday’s loss on home ice to the Lumberjacks.

On our [scoring] opportunities, their goalie saw every puck and we didn’t get a lot of second and third opportunities because we weren’t around the net.”

Lumberjacks’ goalie Nathan Mueller turned aside all 33 shots he faced to register his SIJHL-leading fourth shutout of the season to pace his side to victory on Monday at the Ice For Kids Arena.

Fifth-place Wisconsin (19-24-3-1) scored once in each of the three periods to secure the road victory.

Cade Moreland collected the eventual game-winner just 7:18 into the first period as he was sent in all alone on Lakers’ goalie Alex Bugeja before deking him out and sliding the puck home for his 17th goal of the season.

Lukas Lundgren then doubled the lead for the visitors 2:45 into the second as he wired a shot in upstairs from the from the right side, with Nicholas Solema and Darren Shykes being credited with assists on the play.

Solema then picked up his second helper of the day in the third frame as he set-up Matt Turnbull for his sixth marker of the season with 12:06 to go to round out the scoring.

Bugeja was solid in defeat for the Lakers (17-24-3-1), turning aside 30 shots to his credit.

“Definitely can’t fault his effort for today,” Strachan said of Bugeja.

“He was probably our best player through the 60 minutes. He’s just been focused, both our goalies I thought have really picked their game up and risen to the challenge of being ready to play when their name is called and giving us opportunities to have success on a nightly basis.

“If we’re gonna amount our season to anything and reach our future goals that we do have in winning a championship here, we’re definitely gonna need both of ‘em to play to their capability and give us that opportunity every night,” he added.

On Friday night, the Lakers busted open a third period tie with three unanswered goals to send them on their way to a 5-2 over the Miners at the Ice For Kids Arena.

The Lakers started strong as they skated out to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes on markers from captain Noah Loveday (power play) and Ben Hoefler.

The top-ranked Miners (29-14-3-2) came out quickly in the middle stanza as their captain, Shaye Sommerfeld, put the visitors on the board just 19 seconds in as he notched his 15th goal of the campaign.

Up a skater just over 10 minutes later, the Miners drew level with Spencer Milne supplying a personal single-season-best 19th to knot the affair at 2-2 after 40 minutes.

But in the third, the Lakers came back with the eventual game-winner from Matthew Dyck at nearly five minutes in.

The Lakers then capped off the win with late efforts from Peyton Hughes and Mathieu Harrold to help secure the win on home ice—their 16th of the season.

Bugeja was stellar in making 36 saves to earn the win for Fort Frances while Red Lake’s Zach Willms faced 45 shots in defeat.

“We were into it Friday, we obviously played a game that we’re capable of playing,” Strachan recalled.

“We come out, we jump on them, we’re into the game right away and even though they came back and tied it through the second, I really believe that our guys could have success in the game and they just stayed focused.

“They played with a little bit of urgency in the third and [with] some passion and they got the job done,” he lauded.

“Today [Monday], we had no urgency, no passion and obviously it’s a different result.”

The last-place Lakers next are in action tomorrow night when they host the Lumberjacks at 7:30 p.m. before welcoming the Ice Dogs in an afternoon showdown on Sunday (Feb. 23) at 4 p.m.

Both games will take place at the Ice For Kids Arena, in the Fort Frances Memorial Sports Centre.

“It’s a team we haven’t seen since before Christmas, a team that we’ve kind of struggled against in the win/loss column,” Strachan said of the rival Ice Dogs.

“So it’s gonna be a good matchup to see where we’ve improved since the last time we’ve played them. Obviously they’re a potential first-round opponent [in the playoffs] at this point and we just need to move past today and play the game we’re capable of playing.

“On a nightly basis right now, if we’re not gonna come focused and ready to put in a 60-minute effort, then we’re just gonna make it a lot harder on ourselves down the stretch here,” Strachan warned.

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