Monday, December 22, 2014

Lakers split with NOJHL

It’s not often that teams from different Junior ‘A’ hockey leagues have a chance to go head-to-head during the regular season.
But the Fort Frances Lakers got to do just that over the weekend in Spooner, Wis.

The Lakers and the defending SIJHL champion Minnesota Wilderness made their way to the Northwest Sports Complex, home of the Wilderness for their first two Bill Salonen Cup titles, where they went up against the NOJHL’s Soo Thunderbirds and the Elliot Lake Bobcats in the first-annual “Superior-Northern Showdown” event.
“This was a good event to start between both leagues, and I believe that down the road it could be bigger and more exciting for the two leagues,” noted Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“I believe that the leagues are similar in comparison, and I could see that this event will lead to some good competitive hockey for all involved,” he added.
Coming off a pair of wins over the Thunder Bay North Stars and Duluth Clydesdales at the SIJHL “showcase” event in Duluth prior to Christmas, the Lakers were looking to continue their strong play Friday afternoon against the Thunderbirds.
But it was the defending NOJHL and Dudley Hewitt Cup champs who controlled the game, cruising to a 7-1 triumph on the strength of two-goal efforts by Yan Kalashnikov and Brandon Warmington.
“We came out and jumped on them early to take the lead [thanks to a goal by Kevin Kurm],” Strachan recalled. “And we had a few opportunities to go up even further but we didn’t capitalize on them.
“Then we quit skating and playing our game plan, and we watched a good hockey team go to work,” he added.
“The Soo played their positions, moved the puck, and capitalized on our breakdowns, and they also competed at a level that good hockey teams play at in order to win.”
Saturday’s affair against the first-year Bobcats was a
totally different one than what had transpired 24 hours earlier as the Lakers dominated their opponents en route to a 6-0 triumph.
“The biggest difference was that the Lakers came to play,” Strachan stressed.
“Although the score was only 1-0 through two periods, I felt that we had out-played and out-chanced the Bobcats for 40 minutes.
“In between the second and third periods, we talked about not quitting and pushing the pace, and as a result we were able to score some nice goals, which was nice to see,” he added.
Colton Spicer and Jordan Christianson led the way offensively with three-point outings. Spicer scored a pair of goals and picked up an assist while Christianson had three helpers.
Jon Carlson, Patrick Sofer, Hunter Leishman, and Cody Wickstrom also scored while goalie Tanner Hamilton turned aside all 21 shots that came his way.
“Our three most consistent players in both of our games was the line of Jacob Nolan, Kurm, and Sofer,” Strachan noted.
“On Friday, they sustained pressure, scored our goal, and showed the most work ethic, and they led the way again on Saturday by having many chances,” he lauded.
“Saturday was a team effort as everyone played better as a whole,” Strachan added.
“But I thought Wickstrom played well, and I also thought that Payton Ruter also had a very consistent weekend.”
After resuming league play here last night in a make-up game against the Dryden Ice Dogs (the outcome was not known as of press time), the Lakers will continue a three-game homestand this weekend when the Wilderness and Clydesdales visit Friday and Saturday, respectively.
“We won’t change anything when it comes to our game plan for those three home games,” Strachan said.
“We are trying to fine-tune our systems, get in our minds that we need to shoot the puck more, and get our special teams rolling.
“We need to take advantage of our home games, and game in hand, if we are going to reach our goal as one of the top seeds come playoff time,” he stressed.

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