Lakers open pre-season with victory
It took a while to shake off the rust but once the Fort Frances Lakers hit their stride, it was all systems go.
Down by three in the second period, the Lakers scored four unanswered goals, including Billy Grillo’s power-play marker at 3:03 of overtime, to give Fort Frances a 5-4 victory over the visiting Minnesota Iron Rangers on Friday night to open the SIJHL pre-season.
“It’s about fighting through adversity and coming back to win,” he noted.
“That was a lot of guts by the boys tonight.”
Grillo, who played for the Great Falls Americans of the American West Hockey League last season, started the play after the Lakers won a key face-off in the visitors’ zone after Jay Routheau got the gate for cross-checking.
“I worked it over to [Tanner] Fricke at the left point and he sent it down low,” he recalled. “One of the Lipinskis—I’m not sure which one [it was Lyndon]—found me coming in the back door as I was creeping down from the point.
“I hit it well enough to find the twine.”
Lakers’ general manager and head coach Wayne Strachan was pleased with his team’s determination in its initial on-ice test.
“I’m happy the boys showed character to come back to win the hockey game,” he remarked.
“[Grillo] is smart with the puck in their zone,” Strachan added. “The puck doesn’t stay on his tape very long, whether he’s shooting it or making a play.
“He’s a 20-year-old whom we need to take a leadership role with our defensive guys.”
“Give credit to Fort Frances,” said Iron Rangers’ head coach Chris Walby, who pulled starting goalie Jacob Garvey halfway through the game in favour of Anderson in following his pre-game plan to give both netminders significant playing time.
“They capitalized on some of our mistakes. . . .
“Going back to last season, it’s always been a competitive battle between these two teams,” Walby added.
“With one defenceman in the box and two more banged up on our bench, we had three forwards out there killing the penalty in overtime,” he noted.
“We had nothing left back there.”
The opening period ended with the Iron Rangers up 2-1 after Eric Madison (at 1:29) and Gus Karkinen (at 17:34) sandwiched goals around a man-advantage marker by the Lakers’ Bryson Jaspers at 14:35.
Minnesota appeared to take a stranglehold early in the second period with two goals 33 seconds apart.
Karkinen got credit for his second of the night at 1:03 on a shot that bounced off an array of sticks and bodies before getting past Lakers’ starting goalie Jordan Cartney.
Moments later, three Lakers got caught in front of their own net watching Trevor Hoth, who threaded a perfect pass to Thomas Fazio coming in from the blind side.
Fazio zipped it home—ending Cartney’s night at 1:36 of the frame to make it 4-1.
“My second concern is the slow starts to the period,” noted Strachan.
“The biggest concern is being sloppy in our own zone, and just our positioning and physical play overall in our own zone.”
Former Muskie Ryan Ferguson came on in relief of Cartney but even that, combined with a Lakers’ two-man advantage for 1:03 later in the frame that came up empty, seemed to have no effect.
But instead of folding their tents after the lost opportunity, the Lakers put their nose to the grindstone to construct their comeback.
The Lakers’ sibling connection started the rally, with Lyndon Lipinski finding twin brother, Bryce, in the slot, who beat Anderson at 12:33 of the period to cut the lead to 4-2.
“That goal was huge,” said Strachan. “At the start of the second, we had a little lull and there wasn’t a lot of interest or jump by our guys. . . .
“After scoring that goal, it motivated us in the right direction.”
Fort Frances kept up the pressure in the third and it paid off as Ben Smaha and another former Muskie, Brandon Sinclair, lit the lamp 1:51 apart to put the Lakers back on even terms.
Ferguson was a massive reason the Lakers even made it to overtime, turning away two Iron Rangers’ breakaways in the final session.
“Ryan’s a goalie . . . who just keeps it simple and stops the puck,” lauded Strachan.
“He made the saves when called upon. He held the fort for us.”
Strachan was adamant his team needs to ramp up its physical play as the regular-season opener Sept. 20 here against the Thunder Bay North Stars approaches.
“You can’t stick-check your way to winning a championship,” he warned.
“We need to be nastier to play against.”
Fort Frances heads to Hoyt Lakes tonight for a rematch with the Iron Rangers before travelling to Marathon tomorrow to take on the North Stars in a game that will double as a tribute to former Laker Jaret LeClair and three other residents of the Ojibways of the Pic River First Nation, who were killed in a multiple-vehicle auto accident there last October.
The Lakers’ next home game is this Saturday (Sept. 14), when Fort Frances wraps up its pre-season action against the Wisconsin Wilderness at 7:30 p.m.
In related news, those wanting to provide billet homes for Lakers’ players are asked to contact Mary (274-7264) or Bev (274-2243).
There currently are enough homes for players but a waiting list will be created for those wanting to help given the possibility of more players joining the team as the season progresses.