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Lakers out to keep early momentum going

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The wins may not count just yet but don't think for one second that getting off on a winning foot wasn't a top priority for the Fort Frances Lakers.

The squad kicked off its SIJHL pre-season schedule in style over the weekend by claiming both games of a home-and-home series against the Minnesota Iron Rangers.

The Lakers took the opener by a slim 3-2 margin Saturday night down in Hoyt Lakes, then followed that up by cruising to a 6-2 victory the following night here at the Ice For Kids Arena.

“I like tonight that we kind of grew from last night's game,” Lakers' head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said after the win on home ice.

“Maybe the chemistry wasn't really there [and] we were sloppy at times,” he admitted.

"Obviously, the positives outweigh the negatives.

“But tonight, I thought after the first period we played more to our identity and we were competitive and in their face,” Strachan added.

“We were hungry for pucks, were relentless at times in their zone, and I thought we played fast, aggressive in the last two periods and that's the way we wanna be,” he stressed.

The Lakers used a well-balanced attack Sunday night, getting goals from six different players.

The teams traded a pair of goals in the first period, with Kaleb Bruyere and Kirk Coppock connecting for the Lakers while Cameron Kearse and Kip Knutson countered for the visitors.

A power play helped the Lakers net the eventual game-winner in the second period when Brady Wicklund connected just 18 seconds into the frame.

Noah Loveday added one at even-strength 90 seconds later before Isaac Baron made it 5-2 after 40 minutes.

Nick Lucas capped the scoring late in the third when be broke in alone on goal before tucking one past Iron Rangers' goalie Synjen Amende.

Dawson Rodin picked up the win as the Lakers outshot the Iron Rangers 55-20.

Kolton Kringstad started for Minnesota, turning aside 18-of-22 shots he saw, while Amende stopped 31-of-33 in relief.

“I like the way things have went,” Strachan said about the pre-season thus far and how the new players that were signed during the off-season have adjusted to the team.

“Goaltending is still a little bit of a question mark in who is going to be with 'Matty' [Matt Booth] there,” he remarked.

“But defensive-wise, just looking at what we've brought in and the moves we made to strengthen our back end, I think we have improved immensely back there,” he enthused.

"I think we have some good skaters, guys that read the ice well, and they're defending well.

“In the two games we've given up . . . I'd be surprised if it was 30 shots,” Strachan lauded.

“I thought we did a good job in our own zone and that's a tribute to some of the new guys we've brought in.”

Saturday night's game was much closer but the Lakers ultimately came out on top by a 3-2 margin at the Hoyt Lakes Arena.

Jaedin Ness' goal seven-and-a-half minutes into the third proved to be the winner as the Lakers kicked off their pre-season schedule on the right foot.

Brett Hahkala and Loveday also scored for the Lakers while Tyler Szturm earned the win, finishing with 11 saves on 13 shots.

Garrett Wojcicki and Aaron Koivunen replied for the Iron Rangers, with Amende finishing with 34 saves in taking the loss.

“Up front, I like our speed and maybe we could add a little more skill to our top six,” Strachan noted.

“But the guys are clicking and you've got to be excited that all the new guys that have come in have gelled with, I guess, with the veterans,” he added.

“It seems to be good and the guys are getting along, and obviously there's a lot of happy faces tonight.”

The Lakers continue pre-season play this Friday when they host the Red Lake Miners at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.

Then they'll wrap up exhibition action Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against those same Miners, this time at the Cochenour Arena.

After that, the Lakers kick-off their regular season on Friday, Sept. 21 versus the host Dryden GM Ice Dogs.

Strachan knows his squad will face a stiffer challenge from the Miners this weekend and shed some light on how to prepare for any challenges that will arise in the games.

“The Miners are always a tough, intense team to play against," he warned. ”They play fast, they play in your face, and our intensity level is going to have to rise quite a bit.

“Not taking anything away from the Iron Rangers but the intensity that the Miners will bring is a lot better so it's going to be tougher games,” he stressed.

“We're going to have to continue to grow our defensive game and, obviously, learn the systems and what-not,” Strachan said.

“We're gonna have to be ready to face a little more time in our own zone against them [and] we'll have to learn how to be a little more quick and get pucks out of our own end.”

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