Home loss ‘step in wrong direction’
Simply put, the last two games for the Fort Frances Lakers saw them take a step forward but also one back.
While they earned a key 4-2 road win over the Dryden Ice Dogs last Wednesday night to move into a tie for second in the SIJHL, the Lakers missed a chance to take over the runner-up spot outright Saturday night with a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Iron Rangers at the Ice For Kids Arena.
“Maybe some of the decisions that I made to take some guys out of the lineup may have come to hurt us, right from the net to the defensive forwards, and I can take full responsibility for that,” he noted.
“But the bottom line is that I don’t really think that we made a case to win the hockey game with how we play in the first period and in parts of the second,” he added.
“We had our moments later in the second and we didn’t really show our true game until the third period, but it was too little, too late.”
With Saturday’s loss, the Lakers (25-15-1-2) remained in a tie for second with the Ice Dogs, who paid a visit to the Ice For Kids Arena last night (the outcome of that game were not available as of press time).
Heading into that one, the Ice Dogs held a better record (26-18-0-1) but the Lakers had played three less games.
Despite outshooting the Iron Rangers 12-6 in the first period Saturday night, the Lakers found themselves trailing by a goal after Sawyer Jacobson put a back-hander past Jameson Shortreed early in the opening frame.
The Lakers tied the game on the power play just 33 seconds into the second period when Jordan Christianson, who was named the SIJHL player-of-the-month for January a day earlier, beat Iron Rangers’ goalie Chase Hollander.
Halfway through the period, though, the Iron Rangers regained the lead just after they killed off a penalty when Jacobson tipped home a long-range shot from Jonathon Losurdo for his second goal of the night.
“He’s making up for lost time right now,” Iron Rangers’ head coach Chris Walby noted of his forward, who started the season with the MJHL’s Neepawa Natives.
“He’s had a lot of opportunities to score in the first two months that he’s been with us, but he’s just been snake-bitten.
“It was good to see him get some goals tonight,” Walby added.
After a back-handed opportunity from Jordan Nolan slid by a open net early in the third, the Lakers had a chance to tie the game late in regulation time on a power play but still were unable to put the puck past Hollander.
“When they got the power play there, I was actually starting to feel really tired,” Hollander noted.
“But our guys played really well in front of me and a lot of the credit goes to them.
“Fort Frances is a really good team and the games between us have always been close,” he added.
“But this team here really battles until the very end, and I think that has been the difference lately.”
Just one second after the penalty expired, the Iron Rangers rushed down the ice on a two-on-one that saw Joey Haydock’s shot go by Shortreed to seal the win for the visitors, and also cut the deficit between fifth and second place in the standings to just three points.
“We are both battling for places in the standings right now and every game is crucial,” Walby stressed.
“We’ve played more games than the Lakers, so to try and get a win up here was critical,” he added.
“And you could see that tonight with the playoff atmosphere on display.”
That post-season buzz also was on display last Wednesday night in Dryden as the Lakers finally notched a win over an Ice Dogs’ squad that has given them fits over the last couple of months.
“We came out of the gates hungry, and the guys battled back and forth with them early on,” Strachan recalled.
“Then in the second period, I felt that we took control of the hockey game when we went ahead and we just didn’t look back.
“It was a strong effort and the guys showed that hunger to get the job done against that team,” he added.
The top offensive player for the Lakers was defenceman Owen Stauber, who assisted on goals by Alex Bruess and Jacob Nolan.
Tyler Brodersen and Brendan Cawston also tallied against Dryden.
“I thought that the line of Alex Bruess, Brendan Cawston, and Davis Smith played well, especially with two big goals that they scored in the second period,” Strachan said.
“Up until that point, I thought that they weren’t playing all that well, but they got some spark for us and were able to capitalize on two situations,” he noted.
Rory Court and Chris Sitko had a goal and assist each for the Ice Dogs.
With a pair of games this weekend against the Duluth Clydesdales already awarded to the Lakers via forfeit (Duluth was expelled from the SIJHL back on Jan. 22), the squad doesn’t play again until next Tuesday (Feb. 12) when the Iron Rangers pay another visit to the Ice For Kids Arena.
As a result of that, Strachan will be doing a little bit of scoreboard watching over the next few days as his team continues to battle for the second seed in the playoffs.
“Having a little bit of a layoff is not always great, but some of the other teams will be playing three games in three nights,” he noted.
“We’ll hope for some help from the [Minnesota] Wilderness against the [Thunder Bay] North Stars, and hopefully the Iron Rangers can split against the Ice Dogs or win a game up there [in Dryden],” Strachan remarked.
“There is enough hockey left, though, that we still own our own destiny, and we’ve made it clear that second place is where we want to be,” he stressed.