Lakers handed shocking loss by Wilderness
It had been 111 long and mostly miserable days since the Wisconsin Wilderness had tasted victory.
Surely the remedy to what ailed them couldn’t have been the first-place Fort Frances Lakers—winners of seven-straight going into their match-up Saturday night in Spooner.
The Wilderness (2-33) snapped an almost-unimaginable 32-game losing streak by doubling the Lakers 4-2 to give head coach John McCreary his first win in 19 games since taking over for Ian Jensen on Nov. 12.
The jaws of many may have dropped at the result, which served to drop the Lakers down two spots to No. 7 in the latest Canadian Junior ‘A’ Hockey League top 20 rankings.
But the one attached to Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan wasn’t one of them.
“To me it’s not that shocking,” Strachan said pointedly.
“With our last two games now in the books, I do not think we have been crisp in our play or as intense as we are capable of being,” he noted.
“They wanted it more,” Strachan added. “They played energized, intense, and in our face all game, and we didn’t respond or pick up our intensity until it was too late.”
Mason Meyer’s man-advantage marker for his 29th goal of the season gave the Lakers the lead at 3:22 of the first.
It went all downhill from there.
Shane Billings tied the game at 4:45 before Justin Gregory put the Wilderness in front at 6:44.
The second period was all Wisconsin as they launched 22 shots at the Lakers’ net while tacking on two more goals courtesy of Alex Rezansoff and Jake Lobato.
“To be honest, we scored the first goal which was on the power play and lucky,” Strachan said.
“That might have been the only control we had of the game as we were outworked and made many bad decisions in our defensive game, as well as with the puck,” he added.
“To me, we handed them everything they got,” Strachan remarked. “Bad turnovers, bad pinches, not picking them up defensively and lack of intensity were our major downfalls.
“We did not compete hard enough to win the hockey game and it concerns me as to why that was.”
Tanner Fricke drew the Lakers closer at 8:52 of the third with a power-play marker for his seventh of the campaign.
But Griffin Strain stood tall with a 42-save effort to propel Wisconsin to the win in front of an overwhelmingly grateful home crowd that finally had a chance to celebrate two points.
New Lakers’ goalie Devin Tappendan, meanwhile, turned aside 36 shots in his debut after the 19-year-old native of Markham, Ont. was picked up Friday from the Burlington Cougars of the Ontario Junior Hockey League for a player development fee.
“Shortly into the first, Tappendan was called upon—because of a bad turnover—to make a big save on a breakaway on Wisconsin’s first shot of the game,” Strachan said about the 6’5”, 220-pounder, who went 5-11-0-2 with a 4.42 GAA and an .880 save percentage with the Cougars this season.
“With the goals, and I have discussed the game with him, he [Tappendan] felt the first one was on him and I thought he was cheating a bit off his post,” added Strachan, who officially released goalie Ethan Wood on Friday as the netminder had left the team to return to school after playing just one game with the Lakers.
“But for the next three, they were all 3-on-1s.
“Now you expect your goalie to come up big for you at times,” Strachan reasoned. “But when you leave him out to dry that many times, breakdowns may happen.
“We need to be better to help our goaltending,” he stressed. “Giving up 40 shots [overall] and 22 in a period is unacceptable for our team.”
The Lakers (29-4-0-2) had extended their winning streak with a 2-1 win over the visiting Minnesota Iron Rangers (21-9-2-2) last Wednesday.
Kyle Lipinski had the game-winner on a 5-on-3 power play at 12:43 of the third in his third-straight game after having just one goal all season before his offensive surge.
Meyer had the other Lakers’ goal while Jason Reynolds (short-handed) had opened the scoring for Minnesota.
Jordan Cartney had 30 saves in victory while Alex Reichle made 39 saves in the loss.
That game marked the return of forward Bryson Jasper to the Lakers’ lineup after being re-acquired in a trade with the English River Miners earlier this month.
Two other new players—forward Ryan McQueen (from the Neepawa Natives of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League) and defenceman Cam Jackson (Gustavus Adolphus College Gusties of Saint Peter, Mn.)—also saw their first Laker action.
Meanwhile, forwards Colton Spicer (shoulder) and Donovan Cousineau (knee) remain sidelined indefinitely.
The Lakers were in Thunder Bay last night to face the second-place North Stars (23-6-1-3).
The score was unavailable by press time.
Fort Frances next heads to Hoyt Lakes, Mn. tonight to face Minnesota, then will host the North Stars on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.