Lakers learn lessons from pre-season losses
Although his team was on the losing end of a pair of exhibition contests against the Dryden Ice Dogs over the weekend, Fort Frances Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan felt the squad gained some valuable knowledge they’ll use to build towards the start of the SIJHL regular season.
“Overall, we, as a coaching staff, believe we had many good things take place during the weekend, and we also found out where we need to work and improve to be a better hockey team,” he remarked.
“On Saturday, I think the guys all responded well to the talk that we gave before the game about trusting their own abilities and being confident once they stepped onto the ice, and I thought they had a chance of winning the game that we ended up losing 3-2 in a shootout.
“I believe that we have a lot to work with, and we have a good solid bunch of players that are willing to listen and learn,” he added.
In Friday’s loss at the ’52 Canadians Arena, the Lakers gave up a number of odd-man rushes and breakaways, which the Ice Dogs took advantage of en route to the eventual 4-1 triumph.
“As everyone saw, we gave up way too many odd-man rushes and breakaways as a result of bad decisions and stick checks, but that is something that we can work on to improve and better our team,” Strachan said.
“Needless to say, we will be doing a lot of battle drills this week, stressing defence first and finishing checks, and we will be competing much harder in practice,” he stressed.
Tyson Holder led the way for Dryden with a goal and two assists while Dan Morin, Josh Reid, and Jesse Linner also beat Lakers’ goalie Tanner Hamilton.
“We’ve been working pretty hard on some high-tempo stuff during our practices this week, and the guys came ready to play,” said Ice Dogs’ head coach Paul MacLean.
“It’s only exhibition season, though, and our main goal right now is to work on our systems, keep the game simple, and trying to build on these things going forward,” he added.
Merritt Rysavy netted the Lakers’ lone goal near the midway point of the game.
Then on Saturday night in Dryden, it took a six-round shootout to determine the winner, with Derek McPhail solving Dustin Stevens to give the home side the victory.
“We had a few chances late in that game, including a nice play from [Jordan] Christianson to [Colton] Spicer that went off of the crossbar in overtime,” Strachan noted.
“In the shootout, Jordan hit one off of the crossbar, but Alex Mason sniped a beauty to keep the game going.
“Overall, I thought we competed at a much higher level than we did on Friday at home,” he added.
Alex Bruess and Joel Bogacki both scored for the Lakers in regulation time, with Austin Lewis and Rory Court replying for the Ice Dogs.
There were a number of different players that Strachan was impressed by during the course of the two games, most notably in netminders Hamilton and Stevens.
“I think Tanner was screened on his first goal on Friday night,” said Strachan. “But after that, the other three goals were more or less because of the breakdowns that happened in front of him.
“Dustin played very well on Saturday, and he might have been motivated from what took place last year when he was in Dryden as he made some big saves to keep the game in our favour or tied up.
“On defence, I liked the way Owen Stauber and Hunter Bowling played in Dryden as they showed a lot of good things, and Joel Bogacki had two solid games,” added Strachan.
“Up front, our top two lines played well in both games, and guys like Christianson, Spicer, Kevin Kurm, and Mason Meyer were creating chances but were snake-bitten at times.
“Merritt Rysavy, Davis Smith, and Alex Bruess all worked hard during the weekend, and many of the young guys chipped during our game on Saturday,” he noted.
Next up for the Lakers is a pair of games against the defending SIJHL champion Minnesota Wilderness, who moved from Spooner, Wis. to Cloquet, Mn. during the off-season.
The first matchup goes Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the ’52 Canadians Arena here, with the rematch taking place Sunday at 3 p.m. in Cloquet.
“Obviously, we will be keying on our own end throughout the week, along with learning our systems and our special teams play,” Strachan said.
“We know that the Wilderness will be older and more experienced, but we will just concentrate on our own game, work on what we need to improve on, and getting our systems down pat for all the new faces.”
While the team welcomed goalie Yoshi Kurowia and defenceman Tyler Tuneberg to their pre-season preparations over the past week, the Lakers lost the services of forward Matt Lord due to a back injury.
“We believe this is a big loss to our forward ranks,” Strachan lamented.
“Matt had a great camp with us in earning a spot on our team, and he may be out for a substantial amount of time,” he warned.
In other news, three members from last year’s Lakers’ squad have decided on the next step in their hockey careers.
Forward Henry Gutierrez and goalie Tyler Ampe both will be suiting up for the Williston State Tetons in Williston, N.D., where they’ll be joined by fellow teammate Steve Terry.
Meanwhile, defenceman Brandon Fehd has committed to play for the Northland College Lumberjacks in Ashland, Wis. starting next season.
Former Lakers’ forwards Blake Boaz (Concordia College) and Byron Katapaytuk (Nipissing University) had committed to post-secondary programs earlier in the off-season.