Loss snaps Lakers’ win streak
Wayne Strachan didn’t have to guess what went wrong after watching what likely was his team’s worst performance of the season.
“Even from the warm-up, even walking out there before the first period, I could tell we weren’t into it,” said the upset head coach and general manager of the Fort Frances Lakers, who had their five-game winning streak stopped cold in a 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Iron Rangers here last night.
“There was a lack of intensity and a lack of effort.”
The Lakers’ loss came a day after defenceman Billy Grillo was traded to the Sarnia Legionnaires of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League in exchange for a player development fee.
Strachan was clear any ripple effect in the dressing room from the move had best dissipate quickly.
“If everyone’s shocked because we made a change, they’re going to be more shocked when we make more changes if we don’t start playing better,” he warned.
Grillo, a 20-year-old blueliner from Hermantown, Mn., had six goals and five assists in 23 games for the Lakers, along with 20 minutes in penalties.
The Lakers’ first loss in regulation time since the first game of the season ended their streak of getting at least one point in 24-straight games.
Minnesota (14-7-0-3) rode to victory on the back of Erick Majerle’s 41 saves and a penalty-killing unit that blanked the Lakers (21-2-0-2) on nine power-play chances in the game.
That included a two-man advantage and a double minor—both in the second period.
“We finally executed our game plan,” said Iron Rangers’ head coach Chris Walby, who called the victory his team’s biggest win of the season.
“If I saw our power play has reached 15 percent the past month, I’d be happy,” fumed Strachan, whose team’s efficiency with the man advantage has dropped from almost 40 percent to 28.7.
Minnesota went the final two periods with only four defencemen.
Top-scoring blueliner Matt O’Dea was given a minor and a game misconduct for checking to the head at 7:25 of the first while Jay Routheau was lost to a hand injury after the first period.
Before O’Dea was ejected, he set up the first goal of the game on the power play—steaming around the net and passing it to Tyler Tuneberg, who zipped a one-timer past Jordan Cartney from the left face-off circle at 5:02.
A sloppy clearing effort by the Lakers led to the puck bouncing right to A.J. Rupert in the slot, who made no mistake with his quick shot at 5:04 of the second to make it 2-0.
Sam Mancini then shook off two Lakers’ defencemen and centered the puck to Eric Madison, who wasted no time beating Cartney at 10:25.
The Lakers finally showed some life at 15:17, when Cam Gobeil absorbed a huge check at the Iron Rangers’ blueline from Austin Frank to move the puck ahead.
Hunter Leishman then sent a sharp pass over to Jason Berube, who got his first goal and point since joining the squad five games ago.
“It felt good [to set up Berube] even if the hit didn’t,” said Gobeil.
Bryce Lipinski, who hobbled off late in the second, returned for the third to make a crisp feed in front to Brent Aiken.
The Kenora native was stopped but then watched Kevin Kurm cash in on the rebound for his 10th of the year at 3:59 to cut the lead to one.
The Lakers’ comeback train got derailed 25 seconds later, though, when Trevor Hoth moved into second in the SIJHL goal-scoring race with his 18th of the season to make it 4-2.
Rupert then iced the win with his second of the game at 15:21.
The Lakers will look to regroup tomorrow, when they head to Spooner to take on the last-place Wisconsin Wilderness (1-23), who will be trying to end a 22-game losing streak.
Their next home game is Dec. 13, when the English River Miners visit the Ice For Kids Arena at 7:30 p.m.