Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lakers capture first Salonen Cup

It didn’t have the immediacy of Brett Hull’s infamous series-winning goal in overtime in the 1999 Stanley Cup final.
But Mason Meyer’s timely tally will remain just as controversial in SIJHL circles for a long time to come.

Meyer whistled a wrist shot from the slot that found the top shelf at 12:42 of the third period here last Wednesday to lift the Fort Frances Lakers to a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Iron Rangers in the decisive Game 7 of the Bill Salonen Cup final.
It was the circumstances leading up to the pivotal goal that was the main topic of conversation after the Lakers rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to claim the first SIJHL title in team history.
It also was the first for a local squad since the Borderland Thunder accomplished the feat back in 2003.
“It happened so fast,” Meyer said about his fourth—and biggest—goal of the playoffs, which looked like it started on an offside play that wasn’t called.
After the Iron Rangers broke up a 2-on-1 between Meyer’s “DLM” linemates Lucas DeBenedet and Lyndon Lipinski, Minnesota tried lifting the puck out of the zone up the middle.
Meyer went airborne to snatch the puck but seemingly not before the puck already had crossed the blueline, with DeBenedet and Lipinski still trapped in the visitors’ zone.
But hearing no whistle, Meyer continued on and beat Minnesota goalie Alex Reichle to launch the capacity crowd of 1,087 into a state of ecstasy.
The four officials conferred for what seemed like an eternity to both teams to discuss the play, with Lipinski waiting anxiously nearby for the decision.
When the referee pointed to centre ice to signal a goal, Lipinski shot his arms up in the air—a motion immediately repeated among the overjoyed Laker faithful.
“I jumped right at the blueline, caught it, and kept going,” Meyer recalled.
“I was just hoping they didn’t blow it down offside.”
While DeBenedet and Lipinski admitted after the game they both thought the play should have been whistled down, Lakers’ general manager and head coach Wayne Strachan wasn’t about to give it back.
“I couldn’t tell from where I was on our bench, but at this point I’m not worrying about it,” he grinned.
Strachan lauded his top scoring line from the regular season for dominating in Games 6 and 7 with 14 combined points compared to just five over the first five games of the series.
“They fought through hard times that they needed to learn from,” he reasoned.
“It was a feeling out process for them to see what they could do.
“It’s fitting they came up big for us,” he added.
“On the bench at the end of the second, there was a little chaos and some frustrated guys and even some bickering,” Strachan admitted.
“But we settled down in the second intermission, and talked about controlling our emotions and what we needed to do.
“I heard ‘Mase’ [Meyer] say he was taking the game over and, for the most part, he did.”
A scoreless first period was highlighted by Kevin Kurm just shooting wide on a partial breakaway and Bryson Jasper drilling the crossbar from in close.
Then early in the second, Patrick Sofer put on a forechecking clinic and forced a turnover in the left corner of the Rangers’ zone.
Sofer sent a quick past to Bryce Lipinski in the left face-off circle, who whipped the puck past Reichle for a 1-0 lead.
“‘Sofe’ put good pressure on their defenceman and I called for the puck,” said the other Lipinski twin, who netted his fourth of the post-season.
“I knew [Reichle] was good at taking the bottom of the net away so I got the puck upstairs quick,” he added.
But a gritty Minnesota squad stormed back to take a 2-1 lead before the end of the frame.
With Miles Nolan in the box for holding, Evan Erickson moved into the left circle and fired a wrist shot past Lakers’ goalie Jordan Cartney to tie the contest at 5:42.
The Iron Rangers then forged ahead at 16:15 when the Lakers got sloppy trying to clear their zone.
A turnover eventually led to Matt O’Dea finding Jay Routheau in the clear to the right of Cartney, with Routheau sending the puck over the downed netminder to put Minnesota up.
Cartney redeemed himself in the opening minute of the third with a gigantic save from in close to keep it a one-goal game.
That proved crucial as the Lakers worked their way back up the ice—ending up with a 2-on-1 that saw DeBenedet find Lyndon Lipinski driving to the net.
The Grande Prairie, Alta. product deked to his backhand and elevated the puck over Reichle’s pad at 1:43 to square the contest.
The Lakers controlled the third, which ended with a delirious dogpile of players behind their net and high-spirited bedlam in the stands.
“The crowd was already going strong even in warm-ups,” noted Lyndon Lipinski, who had issued a pointed request after Game 6 for Fort fans to bring the noise for Game 7.
“I’ve never played in front of that many people,” he added.
“This is an unreal feeling, especially being 20 years old and in my last junior season.”
Cartney, who took over in goal for Devin Tappenden after Game 4 and surrendered only five goals in the final three games, said he was glad he could do his part.
“I just prepared for every game like I was going to be playing,” reasoned Cartney, who led the SIJHL in wins, GAA, and save percentage this season but played only one game in the playoffs before stepping in for Tappenden.
“It was tough watching,” he admitted. “But this is the best feeling in the world.”
In related news, Nolan was named the Gongshow Gear Inc. playoff MVP after notching a league-high 15 points in 13 games this post-season.
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