Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lakers stay alive

WELLINGTON— The Fort Frances Lakers weren’t done with the 2014 Dudley Hewitt Cup tournament.
For one more day, at least.

The SIJHL champs stared elimination in the face yesterday afternoon and didn’t blink—coming up with a 6-3 win over the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (NOJHL).
The win eliminated the NOJHL champs (who finished the tournament at 0-3) while vaulting the Lakers (1-2) into a semi-final showdown against the OJHL’s Toronto Lakeshore Patriots tonight at 6:30 p.m. (CDT).
The winner will advance to face the host Wellington Dukes in the final tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., with a berth to the RBC Cup in Vernon on the line.
The Dukes beat the Patriots 5-3 last night to finish atop the round-robin standings with a 3-0 record.
For the first time all tournament, the Lakers showed why they were the team to beat in Northwestern Ontario.
Utilizing their blazing speed, the squad scored goals in the final minute of all three
periods to effectively break the will of the Gold Miners.
Coach Wayne Strachan said that never-say-die mentality started to forge itself back in the opening round of the SIJHL playoffs, when the Lakers returned from Thunder Bay down a goal in their two-game, total-goal showdown.
“That was the first step in the right direction, and that set us up for the second and the final round [against Minnesota] where we always found a way,” he noted.
Yesterday, the Lakers took an early lead and never trailed the NOJHL champs.
Just 4:37 in, Riley Daly found Bryce Lipinksi alone in front, who beat Kirkland Lake goalie Jeremy Pominville.
The Gold Miners got one of their own about two minutes later but Fort Frances escapes the frame with the 2-1 lead thanks to Mason Meyer’s power-play goal at the lip of the crease with just 10 ticks on the clock.
“That line [Meyer, Lyndon Lipinski and Lucas DeBenedet] is a line that, when they are on, good things happen for us,” said Strachan.
“Mason has been a leader all year, and in the SIJHL [playoffs] he was one to stand up and get the ball rolling.
The Gold Miners again fought back to tie six minutes into the second, but the Lakers again had an answer.
Demonstrating great puck movement on the power play, the Lakers slung the disk around the Kirkland Lake zone until Meyer spotted Lyndon Lipinski in the slot, who roofed it high to the glove side for a 3-2 lead.
Then with under a minute left, the Lakers struck again as Brent Aiken ripped a puck top shelf with 33 seconds left to make it 4-2.
“I thought that was the best game of the tournament for us overall,” said Strachan.
“We worked hard, our intensity was good, we attacked their net with speed, and capitalized on our chances.”
Turnovers crept into the Lakers’ game in the middle part of the third—and a Kirkland Lake power-play goal at the 12:37 mark was a by-product of that.
“We had some soft turnovers and we weren’t taking care of the puck in our own end there,” Strachan admitted.
But the two-goal margin was restored just under two minutes later when Lipinski took a nice DeBenedet feed on the give-and-go, 2-on-1 rush.
Miles Nolan added an empty-netter with 33 seconds left to seal the victory.
Lipinski was named the team’s MVP for the game, and the last-year Laker wasn’t about to see his time in the black, white and red come to an end.
“As a 20-year-old, I did not want to be playing my last junior game,” he stressed.
“I want a shot at a championship and I’m glad we answered the bell tonight.”
Jordan Cartney was solid in net, making 30 stops.
“He’s definitely been our MVP since Game 5 of the SIJHL final,” Strachan said of Cartney.
“He just wants it and is the backbone of our team right now.”

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