Lakers crowned SIJHL champs
He’s only three days old but Cohen Robert Strachan is almost guaranteed already his dad won’t ever top this week.
Wayne Strachan went from becoming a father Monday to an SIJHL champion last night as the Fort Frances Lakers’ head coach and general manager saw his team rally from a 2-1 third-period deficit to edge the Minnesota Iron Rangers 3-2 and capture the squad’s first Bill Salonen Cup before a jam-packed crowd at the Ice For Kids Arena.
“Personally, for me, this week has to have been the best one in my lifetime.
“The guys never quit and they believed in one another,” he added. “They fought through adversity the whole series.
“It was well-deserved.”
Mason Meyer netted the series-winning goal at 12:42 of the third—one that will be defined by controversy for a long time to come.
After the Iron Rangers broke up a 2-on-1 between Lyndon Lipinski and Lucas DeBenedet, an attempted clearing pass launched up the middle was gloved down in mid-air by a leaping Meyer, who appeared to be outside the blueline when he caught the puck.
Hearing no whistle from the linesman, Meyer steamed towards the net and launched a missile of a wrist shot that sent Minnesota goalie Alex Reichle’s water bottle skyward as the puck reached the top shelf in a hurry.
“It happened so fast,” said Meyer, who also assisted on Lipinski’s game-tying goal at 1:43 of the third.
“I jumped right at the blueline, caught it, and kept going,” he noted.
“I was just hoping they didn’t blow it down offside.”
Both of Meyer’s mates on the “DLM Line” confessed they thought the play was offside—a sentiment shared by bitterly-disappointed Minnesota head coach Chris Walby.
“[Meyer] was so far offside,” said the visibly-emotional bench boss.
“It’s a shame my boys had to go down that way and the series had to be decided that way,” he lamented.
“They don’t deserve this.
“It was a hard-fought series by both teams and I give a ton of credit to [Strachan] and his boys,” Walby added.
“They worked their tails off.
“But I’d be OK with it if it had been something under [the Lakers’] control, not a linesman,” he remarked.
A scoreless first period featured great chances for Kevin Kurm (shot wide) and Bryson Jasper (crossbar), with the Lakers outshooting the visitors 15-7.
Bryce Lipinski put the home team on the board at 3:15 of the second after a terrific forecheck and steal by Patrick Sofer, who fed his linemate in the left face-off circle for a quick shot that beat Reichle to the glove side.
As has been the case the whole series, though, Minnesota responded strongly.
After Miles Nolan was tagged for holding, Evan Erickson fired a shot from the left circle that beat Lakers’ goalie Jordan Cartney for the equalizer at 5:42.
Jay Routheau then put the Iron Rangers in front at 16:15—getting free to the right of Cartney and putting the puck over the downed netminder after Fort Frances couldn’t clear the zone seconds before.
But Meyer’s marker, coupled with some solid team defence and goaltending down the stretch, led to the final buzzer hailstorm of gloves and sticks as the Lakers poured off the bench to celebrate the first SIJHL title by a Fort Frances team since the Borderland Thunder in 2003.
Cartney finished with 24 saves while Reichle made 34.
Nolan was named the Gongshow Gear Inc. most valuable player of the playoffs after leading all players in the post-season with 10 goals, including three game-winners, and five assists.
The Lakers now advance to the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, which is being hosted by the Wellington Dukes from April 29-May 3.
Joining the Lakers and the Dukes in the four-team tourney will be the OJHL champion Toronto Lakeshore Patriots and the NOJHL-winning Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
Fort Frances plays its first game Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. (CT) versus the Patriots.
The winner moves on to the 2014 RBC Cup in Vernon, B.C. from May 10-18.
“We just played what were basically three Game 7s in a row,” noted Strachan.
“We’ll do what we need to do and get ready for Game 1 down there,” he added.
“So far the boys have been able to rise to the occasion.”