Lakers snap three-game losing skid
The month of November certainly has been one to forget for the Fort Frances Lakers as the team slid down the SIJHL standings.
But they were able to snap a three-game losing streak Saturday night at the Ice For Kids Arena with a 4-2 triumph over the Duluth Clydesdales.
“We just haven’t had that intensity in the last couple of games, but we were able to do that tonight and this win helps us out a lot,” he added.
Despite the win, the Lakers remain in fifth place with an 11-9-0-1 record—though just two points behind the fourth-place Minnesota Iron Rangers heading into a rematch here tonight against the Clydesdales.
“It’s a baby step in the right direction,” stressed Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“I liked the enthusiasm that the team had tonight [Saturday] as we came out, played more of that Laker style of hockey, and jumped on them early.
“We’ve got to continue working hard in practice this week before we play these guys again, and before our big three-game road trip,” he added.
The Lakers grabbed an early first-period lead when Bruess beat Clydesdales’ goalie Walker Entstad on a play set up by linemates Davis Smith and Hunter Leishman.
“Our line has been struggling for the last couple of games, and we wanted to just go out there and try and set the tone tonight,” Bruess explained.
“We don’t get to score a lot of goals but fortunately Leishman threw one out in front and I was just lucky enough to bang it in.”
Colton Spicer, Jordan Christianson, and Jon Carlson also scored as the Lakers outshot Duluth 48-26.
While it was the veteran players who all hit the twine Saturday night, Strachan was quick to laud the improved play of the first-year members of the Lakers, whose play he had been disappointed in as of late.
“They had a meeting at noon today [Saturday], where they talked about some things before I came and talked with them, and they were a lot different tonight,” he noted.
“They were more vocal in the dressing room before the game and out in the pre-game warm-up, and they were trying things to help themselves out there,” he explained.
“All in all, I think the guys got the message that they need to listen and learn to help make the team better, and we should be better as we come down the stretch here.”
The Lakers were coming off a 5-2 loss at the hands of the visiting Thunder Bay North Stars on Friday night—a far cry from the 5-1 triumph the Lakers had over Thunder Bay here in their last meeting Nov. 8.
“What it basically boiled down to was making the same mistakes over and over that we have made in our last few losses,” Strachan lamented.
“We draw things up on the chalkboard, we watch the videotape, and we go through things in practice, but it just doesn’t seem like the guys are catching on like we need them to,” he said.
After a goal by captain Merritt Rysavy gave the Lakers a 1-0 lead after the first period, any momentum came to a grinding halt early in the second after a lengthy delay to replace a net that would not go back on its moorings.
When play resumed, the North Stars took control—scoring three goals in a five-minute span to take a lead they would not relinquish.
“I didn’t think our first five minutes were great in the first period,” Strachan recalled. “But we came on and we were making things happen out there as we were successful in spreading them out with some stretch passes.
“We came out all right in the second period,” he added. “But after that break, we just died as we quit skating and Thunder Bay started to outwork us badly.
“When you let three goals go in at the top of the crease area because of not picking up your man, you can’t win hockey games,” he stressed.
The Lakers got one more goal in the third period from Spicer, but it was too late to pull off any sort of dramatic comeback.
Thanks to their win here Friday, the North Stars kept pace with the Dryden Ice Dogs in their tightly-contested fight for second place in the SIJHL standings.
The Lakehead-based squad has shown improved life since former head coach Todd Howarth returned to the team two weeks ago.
“Things have been going pretty good,” said Howarth, who replaced Kevin Kahoot behind the bench.
“We’ve started from scratch as soon as we came in here and the kids are buying into it.”
“He [Howarth] brings a good energy to the room and everyone is usually ready to play when he’s around,” noted North Stars’ forward Matt Kaarela.
“It helps to get everyone on the same page, and right now we are working good as a team.”
After hosting the Clydesdales again tonight, the Lakers will set out on a three-game road trip starting Friday night with a visit Cloquet to take on the league-leading Minnesota Wilderness.
“We have to go in there looking for a little bit of revenge as there were some things that took place in the end of our last game there that should fire up the guys,” said Strachan, referring to a 7-1 loss the Lakers suffered back on Nov. 17.
“They are a team that we have beaten twice this year, and we need to go in there with that same mentality in order to win that game,” he stressed.
Following that game, the Lakers will travel to Hoyt Lakes on Saturday to take on the Iron Rangers, then they’ll visit Dryden for a clash against the Ice Dogs on Tuesday (Dec. 4).
The next home game for the team will be on Saturday, Dec. 8 when the Clydesdales pay another visit to the Ice for Kids Arena at 7:30 p.m., with the team holding their annual bake sale from 4 to 8 p.m. in the Memorial Sports Centre lobby.