Thursday, December 18, 2014

Special teams boost Lakers

The Fort Frances Lakers handed the Minnesota Iron Rangers two golden opportunities to break a third-period tie last night.
The Rangers declined the gift. Then they returned the hospitality—and the Lakers were more than happy to accept it.

Kyle Lipinski’s third goal in three games during a 5-on-3 power-play at 12:43 of the third was the difference as the Lakers edged visiting Minnesota 2-1 for their seventh-straight victory.
The Lakers (29-3-0-2) killed off two-straight penalties in the first half of the third, then watched as Thomas Fazio (cross-checking) and Austin Frank (slashing) took penalties 43 seconds apart for the Iron Rangers (20-9-2-2).
Lipinski, who only had one goal this season before his recent hot streak, took a cross-ice pass from Cody Wickstrom and walked into the right face-off circle before wristing a bullet past Minnesota goalie Alex Reichle.
“One of our five keys we talked about before the game was winning the special teams’ battle,” noted Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“Early on our power play wasn’t clicking,” he admitted.
“But after the second period, we told the guys to relax, move their feet, and move the puck.
“And our penalty killing [Minnesota’s power-play was 0-for-4 for the night] came through in the third with hard work and ‘Carts’ [Jordan Cartney] made the saves when we needed him to,” Strachan added.
Rangers’ head coach Chris Walby wasn’t cutting his team any slack afterwards.
“We’re sharper than that,” fumed Walby, whose team took five minors in total in the third period.
“We had a good first, then we weren’t sharp in the second,” he noted. “And in the third, we end up taking what were legit penalties. . . .
“Matt O’Dea’s penalty [coincidental roughing minor] was stupid. And Austin Frank wants to be our captain in the future.
“You can’t take penalties like that,” Walby stressed.
The Rangers made it 1-0 at 3:11 of the second on a great individual play while short-handed.
Jason Reynolds knocked the puck away from Kevin Kurm as he tried to spin around at the Minnesota blueline, then won a race to the loose puck to break in alone on Cartney.
Reynolds went top shelf to Cartney’s glove side.
The Lakers drew even at 14:52 on a superb effort by Mason Meyer for his 28th of the season.
Meyer busted down the middle of the Rangers’ zone and, with Minnesota’s Sean Teske hanging off him like an over-sized sweater, managed to one-hand the puck under the crossbar behind Reichle.
The Lakers had a glorious opportunity to take the lead nearly two minutes later, when Hunter Leishman was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway.
But Leishman lost the puck off his stick as he tried to make a move in close on Reichle and had it slide wide of the net.
Lucas DeBenedet, meanwhile, assisted on both Lakers’ goals to remain the SIJHL’s triple crown offensive leader in goals (30), assists (42), and points (72).
Cartney finished with 30 saves while Reichle had 39 stops, including two robberies of Meyer and Bryce Lipinski in the third to give the Rangers a chance.
Last night’s game also featured the return of Lakers’ forward Bryson Jasper, who was reacquired in a trade Tuesday from the English Rive Miners, as well as the debuts of forward Ryan McQueen and defenceman Cam Jackson.
“I’m more than happy to be back with the guys,” beamed Jasper.
“When I got the call about the trade, it put a smile on my face. . . .
“I was a little nervous playing in front of these fans again,” he admitted. “But it didn’t go too bad.”
In related news, Lakers’ defenceman Riley Daly (upper-body injury) missed his second-straight game, but Strachan hoped to have him back by next week.
Forwards Colton Spicer (shoulder) and Donovan Cousineau (knee) remain out indefinitely.
The Lakers open a three-game road trip against the last-place Wisconsin Wilderness (1-32) this Saturday.
Their next home game is slated for Jan. 18 at 7:30 p.m. versus the Thunder Bay North Stars.

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