Lakers finally break into win column
It took longer than they would have liked but the Fort Frances Lakers have reunited themselves with the sweet smell of success.
After losing their first four games of the SIJHL regular season, including an overtime defeat to the host Thunder Bay North Stars on Friday night, the Lakers earned a pair of victories over the North Stars and Duluth Clydesdales on Saturday and Sunday to improve their record to 2-3-0-1.
The Lakers looked to be in control heading into the third period Friday night. They jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the North Stars early in the second period, and held a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes of play.
But the North Stars tied the game late in regulation time before Mathias Gardiman scored on the power play in overtime for his second goal of the night to give the home squad a dramatic come-from-behind triumph.
“It was a tough loss as we played well for about 50 minutes and had played our best game to that point in the season,” Strachan noted.
“In end, though, we surrendered some weak goals and we didn’t get that big save [from goalie Eric Messer] when we needed it most, and that is something that has plagued us throughout the young season.
“To lead like we did and to control the momentum for the most part of the game, we deserved better,” he sighed.
Merritt Rysavy netted a pair of goals to pace the Lakers on offence, with fellow forwards Jacob Nolan and Kevin Kurm also lighting the lamp.
Nolan, who joined the Lakers this past week after the Sioux Lookout Flyers suspended operations, also had an assist while Colton Spicer collected a pair of helpers on Rysavy’s two goals.
Saturday’s rematch at the Fort William Gardens was a far better encounter for the Lakers, who scored four times in the third period and outshot the North Stars 40-26 en route to a 6-1 victory.
“We challenged the team before the game to forget about the outcome on Friday night and to bring a 60-minute effort and just see what happened,” Strachan recalled.
“In the end, we played better than we did on Friday night. And because of our hard work, we were rewarded with some bounces.
“Plus, Tanner Hamilton played the way that we needed him to in net, and our power play came up big with two goals after they kind of let us down on Friday as they couldn’t score on several opportunities,” he added.
Forwards Mason Meyer and Davis Smith each had a goal and an assist to lead the Lakers offensively while Nolan continue his hot start with his new club with a pair of helpers.
Rysavy, Kurm, Jordan Christianson, and Brendan Cawston also tallied Saturday.
Sunday’s game in Duluth, meanwhile, was decided in the first period as the Lakers scored three times in opening 20 minutes to pick up a 3-1 victory over the winless Clydesdales.
“The third game of the weekend wasn’t pretty but the outcome was good,” Strachan reasoned.
“We got some breaks in the first, but we scored because we were putting pucks to the net and had players going to the net,” he noted.
“I can’t say that we totally improved from our performance on Saturday, but we found a way to win and we got good goaltending from Tanner once again to move closer towards .500.”
While Hamilton’s play over the weekend, which helped him earn SIJHL player-of-the-week honours, obviously was impressive, Strachan also was quick to mention a number of others who played key roles during the three games.
“I was impressed with the play of Jacob Nolan and his linemates, Kurm and Meyer, and I thought that on Saturday, the line of Smith, [Alex] Bruess, and [Hunter] Leishman got us going with the first goal of the game,” he noted.
“Jon Carlson was steady throughout the weekend on the blueline, Owen Stauber played well though he needs to watch his turnovers, and Ethan Brekke played his best game on Saturday in Thunder Bay,” Strachan added.
As is always the case at this time of year in the Junior ‘A’ ranks, the Lakers made a number of roster changes over the past week as they look to solidify their squad for the rest of the season.
“We have traded the playing rights of Brennan Nesrallah to the Elliot Lake Bobcats in the NOJHL for a player development fee, released the rights of Shane Fitzpatrick to the Tri-Town Thunder of the PJHL in Saskatchewan, and we released Alex Mason from our roster and plan to speak with him shortly on what he will do next,” Strachan noted.
“We have added Jacob Nolan from the Sioux Lookout Flyers, who has made an immediate impact in our lineup, and we also brought in goalie Eric Messer and forward Brody Foster from the Flyers and will make decisions this week on both of them.
“We also added forward Patrick Sofer and defenceman Kyle Salmon, who came from the Portage Terriers in the MJHL, and defenceman Jon Bachman will be joining the team this week and start to practice with us.
“We will be releasing a few other bodies this week to get our roster down,” Strachan added.
On the injury front, the Lakers have welcomed back forward Matt Lord to their lineup after the Hermantown, Mn. native suffered a back injury in the pre-season.
But the team now is without the services of defenceman Joel Bogacki, who suffered an upper body injury.
“We will know more at some point this week as to how long he will be out for and to what extent his injury is,” Strachan noted.
In the meantime, the Lakers now will be looking to earn their first win of the season on home ice when they host the Clydesdales on Friday night, then will entertain the North Stars on Saturday.
Both games start at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
“We’re not going to be changing much at practice,” Strachan said. “We will continue to try and improve our intensity, continue to work on our defensive game, and also improve our transition game and our special teams.
“It’s going to be a lot of repetition work,” he stressed.