Lakers neuter ’Dogs
If one is going to put on a show, the best place for it to occur is at a showcase in front of interested onlookers in possession of terrific opportunities.
Lucas DeBenedet caught the eye of the college, junior, and pro scouts attending the annual “SIJHL Showcase” yesterday in Spooner, Wis., carving up the Dryden Ice Dogs by scoring four-straight goals to lead the Fort Frances Lakers to a 5-2 win.
It wasn’t the most glamorous of starts to the game as Joel Warkentin’s dump-in at 2:10 of the first hit the stanchion on the side glass and slid into a wide-open Laker net after goalie Jordan Cartney had come out to play the puck where he thought it was going.
Chris Varrin then made it 2-0 during a man advantage at 13:26—and the Ice Dogs appeared to be on their way to only their second win in eight games against the Lakers this season.
Enter DeBenedet, who reinforced his role as favourite for SIJHL player-of-the-year honours with a tour de force effort in the final 40 minutes.
“We were in a situation where we needed someone to step up and turn things around after the first and being down,” noted Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“Between periods, we talked about being better and elevating our game . . . Lucas and Mason [Meyer] did just that,” he added.
After deflecting Meyer’s cross-ice pass at 5:54 of the second, DeBenedet beat Ice Dogs’ goalie Joakim Jutras upstairs to tie the game at 9:58.
The natural hat trick was completed at 12:48, when DeBenedet went five-hole on Jutras during a power-play to give Fort Frances its first lead.
Not satisfied with three in a row, DeBenedet netted a shorthanded marker at 4:47 of the third to give him a league-high 36 goals and 80 points on the season, with Meyer picking up his third assist of the day.
Ryan McQueen added icing to the cake with a tap-in goal at 12:15 for his first goal in his seventh game since joining the Lakers earlier this month.
Cartney overcame his early woes to post a solid 30-save effort and continues to top the SIJHL in wins (21), GAA (2.43), and minutes played (1,454:42).
Jutras, in his first start against the Lakers after being picked up by Dryden on Jan. 10 from the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, also had 30 saves.
But he saw his SIJHL record drop to 0-4, along with a puffy 5.41 GAA and an underwhelming .864 save percentage.
The Lakers now head to Thunder Bay for a crucial clash tomorrow night with the Thunder Bay North Stars (27-6-1-4).
Fort Frances leads the Stars by seven points for top spot in the league, but Thunder Bay holds two games in hand.
The Stars beat the Lakers twice last week and are riding a three-game winning streak, with victories in 10 of their last 11 outings overall.
“The game is big not only for standings purposes but for our own confidence and play in big hockey games going down the stretch,” said Strachan.
“We talked before these two games about making some baby steps to get us going again, getting back to basics, working hard, positioning, and overall playing our game plan,” he noted.
“If we can continue to grow on what we did over these two games [at the ‘Showcase’], we are headed in the right direction,” Strachan added.
“It needs to be a playoff-like atmosphere in our room.”
The Lakers’ next home game is Jan. 31 against those same North Stars.