Lakers set to battle familiar foe
It’s seemingly become a spring tradition—and it will take place again starting tomorrow night at the Ice For Kids Arena here.
For the fourth-straight season, the Fort Frances Lakers will go up against the Dryden Ice Dogs in the SIJHL semi-finals, with a berth in the Bill Salonen Cup up for grabs.
“I don’t think you can ask for anything better, though, in a rivalry sense, than to play Dryden in the semis,” he added.
The Ice Dogs prevailed in six games in both 2010 and 2011 while the Lakers swept last year’s series.
Heading into the post-season, the Lakers have had the upper hand on the Ice Dogs, taking the season series 9-6, including their last seven head-to-head contests.
“We’ve had their number in the last few games but it’s been back-and-forth with them all season,” said Lakers’ blueliner Jon Carlson.
“They [Dryden] are one of our bigger rivals, other than the [Minnesota] Wilderness, in this league and every time you play them, you want to beat them,” he stressed.
“It should be a great series,” Carlson added. “And we need to make sure that we continue to work and to continue to bring the intensity that we’ve had lately.”
But while the Lakers have had the upper hand of late, Strachan is stressing the importance of making sure they put their previous performances against the Ice Dogs into the rearview mirror.
“Sure, we’ve had success against them over the last couple of months,” he remarked. “But it’s a new season now and they are a good hockey team that we have to respect.
“They’ve played us tough all year long, and it’s not like we were blowing them out of the rink by any means,” Strachan noted.
After rattling off an 11-game winning streak to secure the second seed for the post-season, the Lakers concluded their regular season on a down note, dropping three out of their last four games to the Thunder Bay North Stars.
Their most recent setback came in the season-finale last Wednesday night, when the North Stars prevailed 3-2 at the Fort William Gardens.
“We didn’t really come out to play, I think,” admitted Lakers’ captain Merritt Rysavy.
“We got off to a slow start,” he noted. “And while we got things going later in the game, it wasn’t enough to get the win.
“We know that we have to get things going now if we want to be successful, and especially if we want to get ready for playoff hockey,” Rysavy stressed.
Cary Brown, Bryce Maggrah, and Jerid Adamson all scored for the North Stars while Jacob Nolan and Davis Smith replied for the Lakers.
With a little over a week between games, the Lakers have been hard at work on a number of things during practice at the Ice For Kids Arena in preparation of what should be a very tightly-contested series with the Ice Dogs.
“We have to come and play with a high intensity level, and we also need to be ready to compete,” Strachan warned.
“Sometimes our team doesn’t put that effort in to win the one-on-battles,” he noted. “And if we don’t do that against Dryden, it’s going to be a short series for us.
“Being disciplined [also] is going to be a key as we sometimes take retaliatory penalties,” Strachan added.
“And our power play is going to be huge, as well, as you need to be successful on that front if you are going to win games,” he remarked.
“Those are some of the things that we are going to be keying on in practice.”
Game 1 of the series tomorrow night will start a half-hour later than usual (at 8 p.m.) due to ice time availability at the Ice for Kids Arena.
But Game 2 on Friday night will go at the regular 7:30 p.m.
The scene then will shift to Dryden for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Tuesday night.
A fifth game, if necessary, would take place here next Thursday (March 28).
Should Game 6 be required, it would be held in Dryden on Monday, April 1 while a seventh-and-deciding game, if necessary, would be hosted by the Lakers on Tuesday, April 2.
On the health front, the Lakers welcomed back John Dora (finger) and Rysavy (lower body injury) to their lineup last Wednesday, and both players are expected to be at 100 percent for the semi-finals.
Meanwhile, goalie Jameson Shortreed and defenceman Jon Bachman still are out of the lineup with concussions.
Shortreed, who suffered his injury after colliding with Matt Kaarela of the North Stars on March 8, is expected to return in a week to two.’
But Bachman has returned home to Canton, Mich. to see a neurologist after suffering his second concussion of the season in a game March 6 against Dryden.
“We’re waiting to see how that goes for him this week,” said Strachan. “But at this point, we are expecting him to be out for the rest of the year.”
The other semi-final will see the first-place Minnesota Wilderness take on the winner of a “play-in” series between the North Stars and Minnesota Iron Rangers.
Heading into last night’s game in Hoyt Lakes, the North Stars led the best-of-three series 1-0 following a 1-0 shutout by Jayme Brattengeier at the Fort William Gardens on Saturday night.