Lakers’ play improved in two home wins
The Fort Frances Lakers saw their four-game winning streak snapped Monday night in Dryden but their overall level of play in a pair of home wins over the weekend has shown the progress the team has made since opening the season with four-straight losses.
After dispatching the defending champion Minnesota Wilderness 6-2 on Friday at the Ice For Kids Arena, the Lakers had their best offensive output of the campaign the following night in an 8-3 thumping of the Thunder Bay North Stars.
“It was especially great to put eight up on a team like Thunder Bay as they are a very skilled hockey club over there,” he noted.
“I think that says a lot about our team.”
That winning feeling disappeared just two days later, however, as the Dryden Ice Dogs skated away with a 7-5 win on Monday, thanks to four-point nights by Dan Morin and Paul Thompson.
“It was a bad night right from the get-go,” admitted Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“We came out flat and took some unnecessary penalties that allowed them to get the momentum and the lead, and from there on it was just a matter of trying to catch up,” he recalled.
“We had some opportunities to get back in the game, but not enough went in to allow us to scratch back.
“It was a live and learn experience and we will move on to our game here [this] Thursday,” Strachan added.
Colton Spicer and Merritt Rysavy led the Lakers in the loss, with both finishing with three points each.
Spicer, back in the lineup after leaving Saturday’s game in the second period with an apparent knee injury, scored a goal and had two assists while Rysavy had three helpers.
Ethan Brekke, Alex Bruess, Jordan Christianson, and Carlson also scored for the Lakers.
Monday’s setback came on the heels the Lakers’ highest offensive output of the season, scoring eight goals on the North Stars and chasing starting goalie Arthur Haase at the halfway point of the game.
“After we had played them in their rink [the previous] weekend, we wanted to push the pace and go wide on their defence below the hash marks,” Strachan explained.
“For the most part, we had success when we did that as we created a number of offensive chances.
“Plus, with Thunder Bay only having five defencemen, we wanted to wear them out as much as possible,” he added.
Rysavy led the way once again with a pair of goals and an assist, which helped earn him the SIJHL’s player-of-the-week honours on Monday.
In addition to the captain’s play, Strachan felt a number of players helped the team earn its fourth-straight win.
“I thought that Mason Meyer played a pretty strong game for us, especially defensively, and he created some offence for us with a nice short-handed goal,” he noted.
“I like the way that Jacob Nolan has been playing for us since he came here from Sioux Lookout.
“While he may not be putting up a ton of points in the last couple of games, he has a veteran presence out there that helps the younger guys,” Strachan said.
“I also liked how Patrick Sofer played,” he added. “And while he is a little bit down about not being able to score a goal, he shouldn’t be disappointed about the way he played as he used his speed to attack the net.”
Spicer also netted a pair of goals Saturday, with Jon Bachman, Kevin Kurm, and Bruess adding singles.
Heading into Friday night’s game against the Wilderness, the Lakers had an extra bit on motivation on their side as the team paid tribute to former forward Jaret Leclair.
Leclair, who suited up for the Lakers for three seasons, was killed in a car accident the previous Sunday night.
“The guys really wanted to win for him tonight, and it was especially nice to win one for Jaret,” Rysavy said.
“It also felt really good to beat the Wilderness here as they are a tough team that are quite hard to crack at times.”
While the Lakers’ offence chased Wilderness starting netminder JoJo Jeanetta early in the second period, Tanner Hamilton was stellar at the other end of the rink, turning aside 34 shots for the victory.
“I think in this game, and in the two before this, that Tanner has been focused and playing like the goalie that we think he is,” Strachan said.
“When he puts his mind to it, he’s very capable of carrying that number-one load, and he’s proven that in the last week.”
Having earned the SIJHL player-of-the-week honours for his play over the Thanksgiving weekend, Hamilton feels there have been a number of factors behind his recent success.
“It all starts right away in the morning for me by just getting focused on the task at hand,” the 20-year-old from Saskatoon explained.
“We also have had some new guys coming into the lineup here, which has led to a bit of tweaking and some adjustments out on the ice.
“The guys were definitely there for me tonight [Friday], and they have been doing that for the last week or two,” Hamilton added.
Rysavy and Kurm each netted a pair of goals against the Wilderness, with Spicer and Hunter Leishman adding singles.
The Lakers also welcomed two new players to their fold over the past week in defenceman Bachman, who previously had played for the Detroit Honeybaked Midget program, and forward Payton Ruter, who started the season with the NAHL’s Johnstone Tomahawks.
“We tried to get Payton to come here last year, but he went to the QMJHL to play for Shawinigan,” Strachan noted.
“So we are obviously excited to bring in a player like him.”
After Monday’s loss to the Ice Dogs dropped them to a 4-4-0-1 record, the Lakers now are preparing to host the Minnesota Iron Rangers tomorrow at 7:30 p.m., who they lost to on the road in their opening game of the season back in September.
“They are a much different team than they were last year as the Ironheads,” Strachan stressed.
“I think we owe them a little bit of revenge, though, from our first meeting as I thought we outplayed them in Hoyt Lakes and that we deserved to win the game.
“On Thursday, we will have to show them the real Lakers if we want to win,” he warned.
After that game, the Lakers will continue a hectic schedule with a home tilt against Dryden on Monday (Oct. 22) before travelling to Cloquet, Mn. for a date with the Wilderness next Wednesday (Oct. 24).
“We are going to have to play about seven games in the course of 15 days, so it will be a little taxing for us,” Strachan conceded.
“But we have extra bodies if we need them, and we will just fight through whatever happens and we will continue to work hard,” he vowed.