Lakers pleased with effort despite loss
Coming off a pair of less-than-satisfying performances in their previous two games, the general feeling among fans at the Ice for Kids Arena last Tuesday night was that the Fort Frances Lakers might have an extremely tough time against the Minnesota Wilderness.
And while the SIJHL league leaders skated away with a 4-2 victory, the Lakers did feel their overall level of play was much better than it had been in recent games.
“But if we can carry that same effort into our next few games, I think we will have a lot of success,” he added.
“And everyone is pumped about what we have on our team as we go ahead.”
Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan also felt it was a much-improved performance by his squad against the Wilderness, especially following a 3-2 shootout win over the Duluth Clydesdales last Sunday.
“I think the biggest difference was that our intensity and the way that we came to play tonight was better than it was in Duluth,” he remarked.
“We had our chances, but what it boiled down to was that we had three breakdowns that they capitalized on and we didn’t capitalize on the breakdowns that [they] had.”
One of the early turning points Tuesday occurred just over two minutes into the game when Lakers’ forward Patrick Sofer was assessed a five-minute major penalty for kneeing and a game misconduct following a collision with Zach Thielen of the Wilderness.
“I think that losing a player of Patrick’s calibre, and the speed and skill that he possesses, definitely hurt our top six forwards, especially with Mason Meyer already out of the lineup with an injury,” Strachan noted.
“To me, though, I thought that it was just a two-minute penalty,” he added. “And while it’s unfortunate that their guy got hurt, this is junior hockey and stuff like that happens.
“There is no way in my mind that it was a five-minute major, but it was what it was and that’s what we had to deal with.”
Despite losing one of their forwards early on, the Wilderness took the lead on the five-minute man-advantage when Nick McCormack’s shot beat Lakers’ goalie Tanner Hamilton.
“It’s unfortunate when a player goes down on either team, as you don’t want to see anyone getting hurt, but you just have to adjust,” reasoned Wilderness head coach and general manager Rod Aldoff.
“We had to move some guys around, which you have to do sometimes in a game anyways, and we were able to get a big goal on the five-minute power play, which we built off of from there,” he noted.
The Lakers responded a few minutes later, when Dora’s point shot fooled Wilderness netminder Gordie Defiel to give the 18-year-old from Frederick, Colo. his first career SIJHL goal.
“We’ve been talking in practice about getting pucks to the net and John did exactly what we have talked about,” Strachan lauded.
“I think the guys need to realize that it doesn’t have to take a beautiful goal or a pretty play to put the puck in the net, as by spreading their defensive zone out and having the opportunity to get the pucks to the net, you can see what happens.”
The Wilderness regained the lead shortly afterwards, however. Forward Danny Bartkowiak was the recipient of a pair of nice feeds from Dylan Haskins to net a pair of goals and give the visitors a 3-1 lead.
“After they tied the game up, we really went to work there and things just started to roll,” Bartkowiak noted.
“Our centre, Zach, got hurt right away and Dylan did a great job in stepping on that line as he made the most of the opportunity by setting up a pair of 2-on-1s,” he added.
After a scoreless second period, the Lakers cut the deficit to one just 79 seconds into the final frame when another Dora shot from the point ended up in the net.
“Honestly, I think I was playing in Squirts when I last scored two goals in a game as I’m lucky to just have a four-goal season,” Dora smiled.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time on both of those plays, and all you can do is just throw it [the puck] on net and hope that it goes in,” he added.
That would be as close as the Lakers got, however, as Brandon Zurick beat Hamilton a minute later to give the Wilderness yet another triumph.
After dumping the Thunder Bay North Stars 7-1 and Duluth Clydesdales 10-3 at the annual SIJHL “showcase” event in Duluth over the weekend, the Lakers now are enjoying some time off for the holidays prior to returning to town on New Year’s Day.
Once they return to Fort Frances, the team will gear up for a special showcase event in Spooner, Wis. on Jan. 4-5, when the Lakers and Wilderness will be taking on the NOJHL’s Soo Thunderbirds and Elliot Lake Bobcats in a pair of games.
“It’s always good to get out there and mix in some new things,” enthused forward Davis Smith.
“It’s good to get ourselves and the SIJHL to other places where we don’t normally play during the year, and to see other teams is something that we are excited about,” he added.
The Lakers will resume league play Jan. 11 when they host the Wilderness yet again at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.