The Fort Frances Lakers were behind the eight-ball early once again on Tuesday night.
But instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they battled and clawed their way to a 4-3 comeback win over the Red Lake Miners at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Nick Swain walked the Miners' defence, busted in on goal on a partial breakaway, and ripped a shot high over the glovehand of Zach Willms in the Red Lake net with 33 seconds left in regulation to lift the Lakers to a thrilling victory.
“He's been kind of a welcome surprise and even when he came in, we didn't know a lot about him,” Lakers' head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said of Swain after the game, who has now registered five goals and five assists in 10 games this season to sit seventh in SIJHL scoring.
"He had a pretty good U-18 year last year with his team and we knew he had the offensive ability but maybe had to work on some other parts of his game. You can see when he gets the puck he's comfortable, he reads the ice well.
“He has the skill to beat guys 1-on-1 and he put it to use more than once tonight and created opportunities for himself or his linemates,” he lauded.
“The last goal there was a pretty goal to see. He walks the 'D' and comes in and roofs it on a good goaltender that has a good glovehand. So, it's a big, big goal for us and, obviously, a big win for us tonight.”
Noah Loveday, Stone Stelzl, and Reece Hopfner also scored for the Lakers, who snapped a three-game losing streak to improve to 5-4-1.
Carson Lux, Kyle Uzelman, and Morgan Venne replied for the Miners (5-3), who have now dropped three straight.
It seemed early on that it was destined to be a tough night for the Lakers once again as Red Lake opened the scoring just 23 seconds into the first period, when Lux lobbed one from the right point that sailed into the upper portion of the net and beat Lakers' goalie Dylan Kosik.
Loveday answered that at 12:02 as he shovelled home his seventh of the season past a down-and-out Willms to knot it at 1-1.
But Uzelman tallied his first of the season by finishing off a Jordan Baranesky feed just a few minutes later to put the Miners ahead after 20 minutes.
It was a constant parade to the penalty box early in the second for the Lakers as Michael Chapman (tripping), Loveday (high-sticking), and Flynn Perry (delay of game) all had to sit in the “sin bin”, giving Red Lake back-to-back two-man advantages within the first four minutes.
But the Lakers' feisty penalty-killing units did a superb job and kept Red Lake at bay.
However, with the teams back at even-strength, Venne snapped a shot that beat Kosik at 14:32 to extend it to 3-1 for the visitors.
Battling back, Fort Frances struck twice in the latter stages of the frame, beginning with Stelzl making quick work on a man advantage opportunity.
Hopfner then potted his first of the season as his shot from the left side rang off the post and bounced into the net to knot it at 3-3 after 40 minutes.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a couple times through the second [period] to get down and even in the first two periods we were up with emotion, playing with intensity, then a few shifts we're down and just making bad decisions with the puck or causing soft turnovers,” said Strachan.
"Then we get into trouble defensively and, you know, we go down 3-1 through the second. [We take] multiple penalties where it could have maybe even been worse if they click on the power play.
“But we stuck with it," he lauded. ”The guys worked hard, killed through the 5-on-3. You know, we score the second goal and you can feel the momentum kind of change in the hockey game and we put a little more pressure on them to tie it.
“The third was a little bit back and forth, but I thought we carried the play and played with a lot more confidence in our game,” he noted.
“We come up big at the end. It feels great to obviously come back here, show some character, and get the win on home ice.”
Kosik made 31 saves to earn the win while Willms turned aside 32-of-36 attempts in a losing cause for the Miners.
The second-place Lakers will resume action tomorrow night when they welcome the league-leading Thunder Bay North Stars (8-1) for the first time this season at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.