There are ups and downs to every season but lately it feels like anything that could go wrong does for the Fort Frances Lakers.
The Lakers lost a pair of home games over the weekend, starting with a narrow 2-1 defeat to the rival Dryden GM Ice Dogs on Friday before following that up with their worst effort of the season the following night in an 8-3 shellacking by the Thief River Falls Norskies.
Inconsistent play has been the main factor why Fort Frances has now lost six games in a row and slipped to fifth place in the six-team SIJHL with a 7-10-1 record.
The Lakers trailed the Norskies just 3-2 after the first period on Saturday night at the Ice For Kids Arena but were dominated and outscored 5-1 in a disastrous second frame where each of their mistakes seemed to end up in the back of their net.
“I knew before we went on the ice in the second period that we weren't prepared to play,” Lakers' head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan admitted after the game.
"The coaches had to go get them out of the dressing room with a minute-something before the period started and when we're ready, we're focused, we got guys out waiting already.
“Between the first period we talked about, you know, we probably had the better opportunities, we probably had more puck possession and we talked about jacking our game up and playing with a lot of intensity and starting to play a little more physical against them and we just went the other way,” he lamented.
Former Laker Isaac Baron had a five-assist night while Jack Michels notched his first career SIJHL hat trick to pace the Norskies' onslaught here on Saturday night.
Bryce Johnson also dished out five helpers for the Norskies (9-7-2).
Local forward Nick Hahkala opened the scoring for the Lakers 4:18 into the first period as he fired home his third of the season from the slot past Norskies' goalie Joshua Seely, who was making his first SIJHL start as regular starter Seth Purcilly is currently serving a six-game suspension.
That lead was short-lived however, as Connor Kalthoff fired one past Lakers' goalie Dylan Kosik just 37 seconds later on a power play to knot it at 1-1.
Bryce Johnson and Tyler Johnson then bulged the twine to put the visitors ahead by two before Tyler Malpass deked through the Norskies' defence and rifled home his first of the season to trim it to 3-2 after 20 minutes.
Kosik was lifted in favour of Alex Bugeja to start the second period, but didn't fare much better as the Norskies tallied five times in the frame to take control of the game.
Michels buried his first two goals of the night before Lakers' affiliate player Praveen Dhaliwal lit the lamp to make it a 5-3 game.
But Kalthoff (power play) and Mason McIntosh took advantage of some porous Lakers' defence to both tally before Michels capped his hat trick at 18:37 to round out the scoring.
Seeley finished with an impressive 42 saves to record the win in his SIJHL debut for Thief River Falls.
Kosik turned aside 16 of 19 shots he saw while Bugeja made 14 stops on 19 attempts in lengthy relief to take the loss for Fort Frances.
“I don't know what it is right now, we're not a team,” said Strachan.
“There's a lot of selfishness on the part of many players in our room right now and, obviously, we need to look at making changes to get the camaraderie back that we had earlier on in the season and find that resilience we had earlier on.”
On Friday night, Justin Pitari's goal five minutes into the third period held up as the game-winner as the Ice Dogs (8-9-1) came back to earn the narrow road win.
The Lakers also opened the scoring in that one was well as Kaleb Bruyere finished off a nice cross-ice feed from Ben Hoefler 13:10 into the first frame.
Then in the second, the Ice Dogs drew level as Nolan Marshall drove through the circle off a Josh Weber faceoff win and buried his own rebound past Bugeja.
Knotted at 1-1 in the third, Pitari buried the difference-maker as he finished off a nice rush up the ice by Dryden defenceman Ben Forbes.
Jacob Anthony made 32 saves to nab the win while Bugeja was solid in making 37 stops to take the loss.
“I thought we handed them two points,” Strachan said of Friday's home loss to the Ice Dogs.
"Again, I thought we came out in the first period and got the lead and were the better team through the first 20 minutes and then in the second period it was a nightmare. Everything that we did positive in the first we took 10 steps backwards and obviously allowed them to tie the game.
“And then in the third, they get a lucky bounce that hits our 'D' and goes in for the game-winner,” he recalled.
“I thought we played an all right third, took it to 'em pretty good, out-possessed them and definitely had chances, we just are in a funk in scoring right now and I think we need to look at just working hard and getting back to keeping the game simple to try to get out of this.”
The Lakers will look to reverse their recent fortunes on Saturday when they hit the road to take on the cellar-dwelling Lumberjacks (5-12-1).
Strachan feels as though the Lakers need to improve immensely on their special teams and will be working hard this week in practice to patch up those holes currently hindering their game.
“We obviously need our special teams to be better, our penalty kill is kind of up-and-down game to game or we go two games that it's good and then on a night like tonight we give up [two] power-play goals,” he noted.
“And it's just not acceptable,” he stressed.
“Our power play is atrocious. We need guys to buy into what we're talking about, what we need to do, where we need to improve, work on the actual plays that we have and try to simplify things. When we get a power play we just have no intensity, you can see it in our passing, you can see it in how we move and it's a big part of why we're not having success right now.”