Lakers tops in tribute game
An evening centered around remembering a fallen former teammate ended with one less centre for the Fort Frances Lakers—and some bad blood.
Lyndon Lipinski scored the game-winner at 2:13 of the third period as the Lakers nipped the Thunder Bay North Stars 3-2 in pre-season action last night in Marathon.
But the stirring pre-game ceremony was forgotten by the closing stages of the contest after a series of incidents ignited harsh words—and harsher actions.
With 18 seconds left in the third period, Bryce Lipinski took a slash on his wrist that went uncalled by the officials.
Thunder Bay’s Ken Kellaway then received a double minor for spearing with three seconds left, sparking a verbal exchange after the final buzzer between the two squads, which Lakers’ general manager and head coach Wayne Strachan said the Stars took too far.
“I think what took place at the end of the game really took the special moment away from what we accomplished in the game or how we honoured Jaret with a victory,” Strachan remarked.
“Words were said to some of our players that have no need to be in the game of hockey at anytime,” an upset Strachan added.
“Both moments [the slash and the comments] were classless acts and very sad to see that both happened in a game that, first, was exhibition and, second, to honour the passing of four men.”
It took Strachan a while to realize what winning the game really meant to his team.
“It didn’t really hit me as I was heated after what took place until I ran into Jaret’s dad, Byron, who was happy we won and wanted to speak to the team,” he noted.
“He did a lot to make this game happen and we have to thank him, the community of Pic River First Nation, Marathon, the volunteers, refs, and sponsors for all they did to make this a great event for us to remember,” Strachan added.
The decisive marker was the lone even-strength goal of the night for the Lakers, who went 2-for-9 with the man advantage while thwarting all four Stars’ power-play chances.
“Lyndon stayed wide and got the cross-ice pass from Sofe [Patrick Sofer], and then blew by their defenceman in a one-on-one situation, came cross-crease on the goalie, and put the puck up over his glove with a backhand,” Strachan described.
“Very nice play, and really exemplified our speed and skill that we can bring.”
The pre-game ceremony featured speeches from the arena’s P.A. announcer, as well as Marathon Mayor Rick Dumas and Pic River Chief Arthur Fisher.
Three of the four victims’ mothers, including LeClair’s, performed the ceremonial puck drop.
“For myself, memories hit home of Jaret,” said Strachan.
“It was a good feeling to be there with the team and playing for the reason we were.
“We discussed again before the game why we were there, and I think the players were ready and prepared to play in honour of not only Jaret but the other three individuals, as well,” he added.
Miles Nolan and Ben Smaha notched power-play goals for the Lakers, who got a strong 37-save effort from goalie Jordan Cartney.
Bryce Maggrah and Cary Brown replied for Thunder Bay.
Last night’s game appears to be the Lakers’ last of the pre-season after it was announced yesterday that tomorrow night’s clash with the Wisconsin Wilderness here has been cancelled.
The reason cited was due to the Wilderness still making preparations for the regular season that won’t allow them to make the trip.
Meanwhile, the incidents at the end of last night’s game appear to have short-circuited one option to still give the Lakers a fourth pre-season outing.
“Another game is not looking good,” said Strachan.
“We asked all the teams and there was a possibility the North Stars may have came, but it’s not something we will entertain now,” he stressed.
The Lakers begin the SIJHL regular season next Friday (Sept. 20) here against the Stars.