It's only 15 games into the regular season but the Fort Frances Lakers realize the importance of getting back into the 'W' column—and fast.
Riding a four-game losing skid, the squad was looking to do just that last night against the host English River Miners (the outcome of which wasn't known as of press time).
The Lakers then will face the last-place Minnesota Iron Rangers this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena here.
“As a team, we talked last week about the importance of these games right now and what it could mean at the end of the season in terms of where we sit,” head coach Wayne Strachan noted Sunday in an e-mailed response to the Times.
“Tuesday [night] is no different," he remarked. "It's a team we are battling with for position and is a must-win situation to make some ground on them as they have a game in hand on us also.”
The Lakers were coming off a 9-0 loss at the hands of the Thunder Bay North Stars on Friday at the Ice For Kids Arena.
“[I] will sum it up as not our night," said Strachan. ”[A] tough game all around.
“We can't dwell on Friday," he stressed. "We need to move past it and improve from what took place.”
After jumping out to a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Justin Muir and Alex Maticic (short-handed), the North Stars exploded for five goals in the second period, including a pair of power-play tallies.
They added two more goals in the third to round out the scoring.
Former Lakers' goalie Brandon Bodnar stopped all 26 shots he faced in his return to Fort Frances to post his first shutout of the season.
Rob Ivy started for the Lakers and took the loss, allowing five goals on just 15 shots.
Michael Binczyk handled nine of 13 in relief.
“My critique of goalies is tough and we, as a staff, believe in our last four loses we have got out goaltended,” Strachan revealed.
“We believe in the guys here but we also have to have results to back that up,” he reasoned.
Brett Akins, the team's third goalie, remains out with a knee injury although Strachan said he is close to returning to the lineup.
The Lakers then were scheduled to face the GM Ice Dogs on Saturday night in Dryden but that game was cancelled due to poor travel/highway conditions.
A make-up date has yet to be announced by the SIJHL.
“I would [have] liked to have got right back at it,” Strachan said of the cancellation on the heels of a tough loss.
“It would have put us in a situation where we had to get right back at it and against a solid opponent,” he reasoned.
As for facing the Iron Rangers here this Friday, Strachan said practice this week will focus on jump, being intense, their defensive game, and special teams, especially the power play.
The Lakers then will have a full week off before hosting the North Stars again on Nov. 17.
“It's a chance for some recuperation,” Strachan said of the extended gap between games.
“We will do a school visit with Seven Generations to Lac La Croix, then it will be all business,” he noted.
“Tuesday will be skills, conditioning, and a little fun,” Strachan added.
“Wednesday and Thursday, we will gear towards our systems and further learning them, and then we will get right back at it game-wise.”
In related news, the two players the Lakers made a trade for last week from Drayton Valley of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) have not reported.
Strachan said forward Brett Reed is returning home to play while defenceman Dayton Playford still is deciding what he may do.
As for injuries besides Akins, the Lakers were hoping to have both Ian Tookenay and Connor Keith back at some point this week from upper body ailments.
“Jeff Venzon remains out with a biceps injury but could return sometime this week,” Strachan noted.
The Lakers also remain without the services of forward Carter Chorney, who was suspended three games by the SIJHL last week for an incident stemming from a match penalty assessed in the Lakers' 3-2 loss to the Thief River Falls Norskies back on Oct. 28.
He will miss this Friday's game against the Iron Rangers after sitting out last Friday's game versus the North Stars and then last night's contest at the Cochenour Arena.