The Fort Frances Lakers don't have much time to figure out how to regroup against the Dryden GM Ice Dogs.
After wrapping up an impressive 3-1 win in their best-of-five quarter-final series with the fourth-place English River Miners last week, the Lakers were sent a clear message by the first-place Ice Dogs: we're the best in the league and nothing is going to come easy.
Dryden stormed out of the gate with a pair of weekend home wins to open the best-of-seven semi-final series between the two squads, starting with a 7-2 rout in Game 1 on Friday night and then cruising to a 5-2 win on Saturday.
Game 3 was set for last night at the Ice For Kids Arena here (the outcome wasn't known as of press time), with Lakers' head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan knowing what his squad needed to do to rebound in a hurry on home ice.
“Before the series started, I felt there were three areas we needed to be good in,” he remarked.
"The first, getting pucks out of our end; two, sticking to the game plan and executing our positions; and three, capitalizing on our scoring chances.
“We need to improve in all three areas and get some urgency in our game,” he stressed.
After compiling a 1.45 GAA and a .954 save percentage through the four quarter-final games against English River, Lakers' starting goalie Ismael Ralsten has allowed 12 goals through two games against Dryden.
But Strachan still believes he, along with his key players, have been strong so far in the semi-finals.
“Despite 12 goals against, I felt 'Izzy' played well and made some big saves,” he noted.
“I felt Julian Uhryniuk was our most consistent player in the two games,” Strachan added.
“Adam Withers has created some good scoring chances and Noah Loveday has been steady.”
As for the first two games in Dryden, it was Trey Palermo who was a force Saturday night, scoring a goal and adding an assist to pace the offence.
Cory Dennis, recipient of the SIJHL's top defenceman award this season, opened the scoring for the Ice Dogs 13:36 into the first period.
Palermo notched his goal in the second before Graham Oliphant made it 3-0 with 43 seconds left before intermission.
The Lakers trimmed the gap to 3-1 on the first shift of the third off the stick of Noah Loveday.
But the Ice Dogs countered a couple of shifts later after corralling a loose puck in the slot and getting it over to an open Tristan Simm, who netted his first SIJHL playoff goal over a sprawled out Ralsten to make it 4-1.
Dustin Roitelman brought the visitors back to within two at the tail-end of a five-minute power play.
But Trevor Kavanaugh capped scoring with a power-play effort of his own at 16:34.
Jacob Gnidziejko made 23 saves in earning the win while Ralsten turned aside 25 shots in taking the loss.
“At times, we showed we can play with them," Strachan said. ”We have created good scoring chances and, for the most part, our penalty kill was good.
“We need to defend as a team better, which we did in Game 2,” he added.
“We need to be more consistent in our all-around game,” Strachan conceded.
“We have to put more pressure on pucks, and we still need our power play to help us out.”
Friday night, meanwhile, featured another clinic by the top-ranked Ice Dogs.
Dryden needed just 33 seconds to get on the board as rookie Evan Walls notched his first career SIJHL playoff marker.
Eric Stout then made it 2-0 three minutes later.
The Lakers countered with markers from Ian Jarvis and Adam Withers later in the frame to knot the score at 2-2 after 20 minutes.
It remained tied until just past the 12-minute mark of the second when Reid Manning buried the eventual game-winner.
Dryden defenceman Brendan Jay then fired one home at 17:50 as the Ice Dogs carried a 4-2 lead into the final frame.
Jacen Bracko notched an early goal in the third before Matthew Pitchenese and Ted Davis rounded out the scoring.
Gnidziejko made 22 saves for the win while Ralsten stopped 34 shots in a losing cause.
Game 4 goes on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Ice For Kids Arena.
Game 5, if necessary, will go Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Memorial Arena in Dryden.
Game 6, if necessary, will be back here on Monday, April 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Should the series end up going the distance, Game 7 would be played next Wednesday (April 11) at 7:30 p.m. back in Dryden.