Lakers up one spot in rankings
Even a split week turned into a good-news situation for the Fort Frances Lakers.
Despite going 1-1 against the expansion English River Miners in their only two games last week, the Lakers jumped one spot to No. 5 in the latest Canadian Junior ‘A’ Hockey League top 20 rankings.
The Carleton Place Canadians (Central Canadian Hockey League) were No. 2, followed by the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (AJHL) and the Soo Thunderbirds (Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League).
The Lakers (24-3-0-2) then started this week on the right foot with a 5-3 win Monday night over the visiting Thunder Bay North Stars (17-6-1-3).
The turning point came with 57.3 seconds left in the second when Cam Gobeil was given a charging major and game misconduct for treating Stars’ goalie Nathaniel Dupuis like a distracted driver treats a speed bump in a mall parking lot.
But the Lakers killed off the entire penalty, then watched moments later as Mason Meyer and Kevin Kurm scored their second goals of the game 1:02 apart to change a slim 3-2 lead into a comfortable 5-2 advantage.
“[Killing off the major] was the biggest key to the game,” said Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan, whose team moved 12 points ahead of Thunder Bay, though the Stars hold two games in hand.
“To kill the 4-on-3 for two minutes, and then the remaining three minutes of the penalty, was huge for us and definitely a momentum grabber for us as we bounced back with two goals shortly after,” he noted.
The Stars, led by a hat trick from Daniel Delpaggio, had no answer for the trio of Kurm, Bryce Lipinski, and Patrick Sofer, who came at Thunder Bay in waves the entire game.
“I believe our entire team rose to the task of playing the Stars tonight,” noted Strachan.
“[But] the line in question was the best they have been since being together.
“I believe their start to the game led the way to how the rest of the team responded,” he added.
“We had some ups and downs, but for the most part played a good hockey game.”
With 21 goals, Meyer now is tied for second in the SIJHL with Dane Feeney (Dryden Ice Dogs) and Trevor Hoth (Minnesota Iron Rangers).
Meanwhile, with his two assists against Thunder Bay, Lucas DeBenedet broke a tie with Delpaggio for top spot in that area and once again leads the SIJHL in goals (26), assists (30), and points (56).
His performance capped a day which saw DeBenedet receive honourable mention for Pizza Hut Player-of-the-Week, which went to Minnesota Iron Rangers’ goalie Alex Reichle.
Jordan Cartney won his second-straight start with a 35-save effort.
Dupuis took the loss despite 43 saves, but was plagued by rebound-control issues all night which led to several of the Lakers’ goals.
The Lakers fell 4-3 to English River last Tuesday in Ear Falls in what was the biggest win of the season for the league’s newest franchise.
Paul Lamoureux scored twice for the Miners while Chris Hrabec and Vincent Currao added singles, with P.D. Melgoza turning aside 38 shots for the win.
DeBenedet had a pair and added an assist while Meyer had the Lakers’ other goal.
Ryan Ferguson made 24 saves in a losing effort.
But the Lakers got payback here Friday night in a 4-3 overtime heart-pounder decided by Lyndon Lipinski’s highlight-reel goal at 2:01 of overtime.
It was Lipinski’s second of the night, to go along with an earlier assist, as the 20-year-old broke a three-game point drought.
Brent Aiken and Cody Wickstrom had the other markers while Cartney had 35 saves.
The Miners, who had erased a 3-1 deficit with less than six minutes to play, got goals from Hrabec, John Morales, and former Laker Bryson Jasper.
Melgoza had 40 saves in defeat.
Meanwhile, it is a mix of good and bad news on the injury front for three Fort Frances products on the Lakers’ roster.
Forward Colton Spicer is expected to miss only two more games with an upper-body injury that has sidelined him since Nov. 22.
Strachan said Spicer should be able to return for the team’s first game after its 12-day Christmas break on Jan. 3 against English River.
Forward Donovan Cousineau, who hasn’t played since a knee-on-knee collision against Dryden on Nov. 9, still is three weeks to a month away from returning.
It’s the end of the junior line for another Laker, however, as defenceman Brandon Sinclair has been ruled out for the rest of the season while he waits to see a specialist for his injured back.
The 20-year-old, who also hasn’t played since Nov. 9 against Dryden, had two goals and eight assists in 18 games this season.
Fort Frances will finish its pre-Christmas schedule with a home-and-home series against the fourth-place Ice Dogs (15-16-2) that begins Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The rematch then goes Saturday night in Dryden.