Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Stars closing gap on Lakers

The whole prospect of the Fort Frances Lakers cruising to first place in the SIJHL regular season now can be thrown out the window.
The footsteps in the distance are those of the Thunder Bay North Stars—and they’re getting louder by the week.

The North Stars have closed the gap to seven points between themselves and the first-place Lakers after taking down Fort Frances twice last week.
After beating the Lakers 5-2 there last Tuesday (Jan. 14), Thunder Bay (25-6-1-4) came here and edged the hosts 3-2 on Saturday night.
The Lakers (30-6-0-2) squeezed out a 4-3 shootout win on the road last Wednesday over the Minnesota Iron Rangers (22-9-2-4) in between those two setbacks.
That was enough to keep the Lakers at No. 7 in the Canadian Junior ‘A’ Hockey League top 20 rankings this week.
But that wasn’t drawing much in the way of praise from Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan after Saturday night’s defeat made it three losses in four games for the squad—their worst stretch of the season.
“As coach, you hope we can respond well but things need to change on and off the ice,” Strachan said bluntly.
“Off the ice, players need to start preparing better, getting focused, and caring about the team first,” he noted.
“On the ice, we need to start competing much harder—winning one-on-one battles and working harder,” Strachan stressed.
“If these things can happen, I believe we can get back to where we were in having success and winning hockey games.”
Daniel Delpaggio proved to be a sizable thorn in the Lakers’ side this past week, scoring the game-winner at home and then pulling off the same trick Saturday with 3:11 left in regulation time.
“On the game-winner, a mental mistake with a soft pass, no recovery from it, a missed check and, in my opinion, not a very good goal to win the game,” criticized Strachan.
“Daniel is a player we drafted last year No. 1 overall, and a player we tried to get to come and play for us this year,” added Strachan.
“However things didn’t work out.
“He is a very good player and definitely has played well against us, especially the last two games,” Strachan noted.
“He is smart, has good speed and hands.
“The thing I like most about him is his read-and-react skills or his hockey sense,” lauded Strachan.
“He finds holes, he is always around the net, and positions himself to be in spots where he is always in the play for his teammates.”
Delpaggio’s efforts, which included nine points in three games, earned him Pizza Hut Player-of-the-Week honours, with the Lakers’ Lyndon Lipinski also getting consideration.
Thunder Bay jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period Saturday on power-play goals by Zach Grzelewski and Delpaggio.
The Lakers fought back to tie it later in the frame with goals 1:21 apart by Bryce Lipinski (15th) and Kevin Kurm (19th).
A scoreless second set up Delpaggio to play the hero in the third, making it three-straight games he recorded two goals and an assist.
Nathaniel Dupuis made 19 saves to grab the victory while Jordan Cartney made 32 stops in a losing cause.
Cartney dropped his first decision in nine starts since a Dec. 5 setback against the Iron Rangers.
Against Minnesota, the Lakers battled back to erase three one-goal deficits, then won the shootout 2-1 on goals by Bryson Jasper and the clincher by Tanner Fricke.
Lyndon Lipinski scored twice in regulation and added an assist on Lucas DeBenedet’s league-high 32nd goal of the season at 10:17 of the third period that pushed the game into overtime.
Cartney stopped 19 shots in regulation and two more in the shootout while Alex Reichle had 29 saves before overtime and one in the shootout.
In Thunder Bay last week, the Stars led 2-0 after two periods, then scored three times in the third to deny a comeback bid by Fort Frances.
Delpaggio had a pair, including one on the power play, while Kenny Turner, Tim Cavar (power play), and Taylor Santorelli (short-handed) also beat Lakers’ goalie Devin Tappendan, who had 25 saves.
Bryce Lipinski and Jasper, with his first goal since rejoining the Lakers earlier this month, had the markers for Fort Frances against Stars’ goalie Eric Mann, who posted 26 stops.
The Lakers are in Spooner, Wis. this week for the annual “SIJHL Showcase,” which attracts numerous college, university, junior, and pro scouts.
“We have talked to several schools in regards to mostly our 20-year-old players, as well as a few of our younger guys,” noted Strachan.
“Some of them are gaining interest from a few different schools, which is good to see,” he added.
“We have some good players in our locker-room and these two games will be a good opportunity for them to make a cause for themselves in front of hopefully many schools.”
The Lakers faced the fifth-place English River Miners (16-17-3) this afternoon, followed by another afternoon tilt tomorrow against the fourth-place Dryden Ice Dogs (17-21-5).
The squad then travels to Thunder Bay on Saturday for a key match-up in the hopes of putting more distance between themselves and the hard-charging North Stars.
Defenceman Kyle Lipinski (day-to-day) joined the Lakers’ injured list with an upper-body injury that Strachan believes will not keep the blueliner out of action for too long.
He joins forwards Colton Spicer (shoulder) and Donovan Cousineau (knee), who both remain out indefinitely.
The Lakers’ next home game is Jan. 31 against the North Stars.

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