The Fort Frances Lakers will be heading into the SIJHL playoffs with a little more confidence after splitting their final regular-season games over the weekend at the Ice For Kids Arena.
In what was a preview of their first-round playoff match-up, the fifth-place Lakers eked out a tough 6-5 shootout win over the fourth-place Dryden GM Ice Dogs before dropping a 5-3 decision to the second-place Red Lake Miners the following night.
Bryce Young became just the second player in SIJHL history to reach the 60-goal plateau by scoring three times to pace the Miners' offence Saturday night.
After a scoreless first period, Brett Hahkala opened the scoring for the Lakers 3:12 into the second when he wired a pass from Noah Loveday past Miners' goalie Vince Benedetto.
Young replied 10-and-a-half minutes later when he rifled a shot off the left-post and in past Lakers' goalie Matt Booth, only to see Jaedin Ness give the Lakers the lead once more at 16:15.
But Young drew the visitors even for a second time as he finished off a Ty Lawrence feed to knot it at 2-2 after 40 minutes.
The Lakers then took their third lead of the night just over a minute into the third thanks to Loveday, who buried the rebound of Hahkala's shot past Benedetto.
But Red Lake notched the equalizer yet again at 4:18 when Morgan Venne chipped a shot over Booth from in close.
Keegan Tiringer then gave the visitors the eventual winner 21 seconds later when he had pounced on a Lakers' turnover before Young capped his hat trick with a short-handed goal into an empty net in the late going.
Benedetto made 28 saves to earn the win while Booth stopped 31-of-35 shots in taking the loss.
A night earlier, Isaac Baron's goal in the fifth round of the shootout was the difference as the Lakers outlasted the Ice Dogs in a thriller.
Dryden had jumped out to a 2-0 lead on tallies by Eric Stout and Kyle Sargent—only to see Fort Frances counter with markers from Hahkala and affiliate player Jake Barker, who notched his first SIJHL goal.
Each side then scored twice each in the second, with Cameron Coutre and Stout—with his 40th—connecting for the Ice Dogs while Barker and Baron replied for the Lakers to knot it at 4-4 after 40 minutes.
The two sides went back and forth into the third, as well, with Curtis Magas putting the visitors back into the lead at 2:29 when he redirected a pass from Rayman Bassi past Gnidziejko.
But Ness forced overtime with 11:21 left in regulation when he tapped home a cross-ice pass from Loveday.
After overtime solved nothing, extra shots were needed to decide the winner.
Ness and Dryden's Siebenga each scored on their teams' third attempt while Baron tucked the decider between the legs of Wilde on his club's fifth shot.
Gnidziejko then stymied Coutre on the last attempt to give the Lakers the extra point.
Gnidziejko finished with 55 saves through 65 minutes, and four more in the shootout, to earn the win while Wilde faced 38 attempts in taking the loss.
The Lakers now will open their best-of-five quarter-final playoff series tomorrow night in Dryden before also playing Game 2 there the following night.
Fort Frances then will host Game 3 on Friday night at the Ice For Kids Arena, with Game 4, if necessary, slated for Saturday here.
If the series ends up going the distance, Dryden will host Game 5 next Monday (March 25).
All games will start at 7:30 p.m. and all will be streamed live online via HockeyTV.com
The other best-of-five quarter-final series pits the third-place Thief River Falls Norskies against the last-place Minnesota Iron Rangers.
The league-leading Thunder Bay North Stars and Miners have first-round byes.