The Fort Frances Lakers may get down at some point in games so far this season, but you can certainly never count them out.
The team showed some resilience once again over the weekend in a pair of road games and are steadily learning what it takes to win on a nightly basis.
After rallying from a second-period deficit to steal a 4-3 shootout win over the Red Lake Miners on Friday night at the Cochenour Arena, Fort Frances stumbled late in dropping a narrow 3-2 decision to the host Dryden GM Ice Dogs on Sunday night at the Memorial Arena in Dryden.
“We got into it quickly did a lot of positive things and had the momentum after the first,” Lakers' head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said of Sunday's loss to the Ice Dogs.
“What hurt us was the second period where we didn't take advantage of that momentum.”
A couple of lucky bounces went the way of the Ice Dogs as they pulled out the narrow home win on Sunday.
On a power play midway through the first frame, it was the Lakers (7-5-1) who opened the scoring off a give-and-go in the neutral zone that resulted in Tyler Malpass getting the puck over to Stone Stelzl, who snapped in his seventh of the season off the right wing past Dryden goalie Jacob Anthony.
Up a skater themselves early in the second frame, the Ice Dogs (7-7-1) notched the equalizer off the stick of Xavier Halterman, who banked one in off a Lakers' defender to knot the affair at 1-1.
It stayed tied at one deep into the third, where Dylan Winsor drove along the end boards behind the Lakers' net and worked his way in front where he shovelled the puck towards the goal and had it clip off a body and trickle across the goal line past Alex Bugeja with 2:08 to go.
Malcolm Huemmert put one into an empty net with 11 seconds remaining for Dryden and it turns out the hosts would need it as the Lakers' Michael Chapman rushed in right off the draw and fired a shot that beat Anthony before time ran out to cap the scoring.
Anthony made 31 saves to earn the win while Bugeja turned aside 30 shots in taking the loss.
“We let things we cannot control effect our game and as a result we were not focused,” Strachan said of the second period.
“In the third, we outplayed them we had chances to win the game, their goalie made some nice stops. We need the second goal stopped and more consistency in the game of some of our top players.”
On Friday night, the Lakers rallied late to steal a valuable two points from the Miners in their barn.
Tucker Evans and Jordan Baranesky (power play) helped the Miners (7-4-0-1) strike early as they went up by a pair after 20 minutes.
The Lakers finally got on the board four-and-a-half minutes into the second period when a MacKenzie Flett attempt from the right point bounced off Flynn Perry and changed direction before finding its way into the open side to trim it to 2-1.
“I didn't feel we played a bad first period, what hurt us was turnovers at our blueline and although I didn't agree with the call that lead to their power-play goal, we need to get pucks out and not give second or third opportunities for offensive chances,” Strachan stressed.
After Ethan Stuckless made it 3-1, the Lakers pulled to within a goal at 8:16 during a man advantage opportunity as Jack Lane fed a charging Noah Loveday going to the net as he finished off a tap-in from close range.
In the third, the visitors forced overtime midway through the frame as Nick Hahkala notched the equalizer with his second of the year.
After a scoreless five-minute 3-on-3 OT, a shootout was needed to determine a winner.
Lane used some crafty stick work to score before Uzelman, who went bar down, tied it one apiece through the first three rounds.
On the fourth attempt by Fort Frances, Loveday snapped a shot glove side that beat Red Lake goalie Zach Willms to give the visitors the edge.
Needing to score to keep the shootout going, the Miners were thwarted by goalie Dylan Kosik to end it as the Lakers skated away with the extra point on the night.
Shots on goal favoured Red Lake by a narrow 31-28 margin.
“I think we just tightened our game up in areas we needed to the rest of the game. Kosik came up big when we needed him to,” Strachan lauded.
"I believe [coming back] should of gave us some confidence about ourselves and our game, that's a good team that plays tough at home we defeated.
“I liked the work ethic of the Nick Hahkala, Cooper Witherspoon, Reece Hopfner line,” he added.
“[Noah] Loveday continues to lead and work hard for us. I thought Kosik was strong on Friday.”
One key member missing from the Lakers' lineup over the weekend was forward Nick Swain, who had to sit out while serving the first two games of a three-game suspension.
Swain has tallied five goals and six assists in 11 games for the Lakers this season and his offensive talent was sorely missed.
“He was suspended for a cross-check versus the North Stars (a 6-5 overtime win for Fort Frances back on Oct. 18) that was called a minor penalty but was reviewed at the North Stars' request to the league,” Strachan noted.
“Anytime you lose one of your top scorers it hurts. He gives us more depth through our lineup and a threat to score or create offence, so will be nice to get him back this weekend.”
Swain also had to sit out last night's home game against the Miners, with that outcome not known as of press time.
The 18-year-old is eligible to return, ironically enough, on Friday when the Lakers host the league-leading North Stars (9-1-1) at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
It will also be “Pink The Rink Night”, where all fans are encouraged to wear something pink in support of breast cancer awareness.
The Lakers will head to Thunder Bay the next night for a 6:30 start at the Fort William Gardens to complete the home-and-home set.