Game 7 to be long treasured

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to cover a lot of exciting sporting events, most of which have taken place here in Fort Frances and surrounding area.
One thing that was glaringly absent from my “bucket list,” however, was to be in person for a seventh-and-deciding game in a series as most of the teams I’ve covered over the years never went the full distance come playoff time.
So when the Fort Frances Lakers pushed the Dryden Ice Dogs to the limit in their SIJHL semi-final series, my excitement meter already was off the charts heading into last Tuesday night’s showdown at the Ice For Kids Arena.
To say the atmosphere was electric would be a grand understatement as the energy from both sets of fans was similar (though not as out of control) from what you would see in the past when the Muskies battled the International Falls Broncos.
As for the game itself, it was what you would expect of tightly-contested playoff affair. But throughout the first 40 minutes, it was lacking that extra spark I was anticipating.
While the Lakers were generating a ton of offensive pressure, they were being stymied numerous times by Ice Dogs’ goalie Eric Sczymcyk in what was his best performance of the post-season.
In fact, when the Ice Dogs extended their lead to a two-goal cushion early in the third period, I was quite convinced that Dryden more or less had punched their ticket into the SIJHL final against the Minnesota Wilderness.
But as is often the case, I may have given the Ice Dogs the “Punkari Kiss of Death” (a term coined by Times’ editor Mike Behan in our weekly meeting last Thursday) as the Lakers pulled off a comeback for the ages.
Jon Carlson’s point blast on a power play gave the hosts some life, then Kevin Kurm nearly tied the game with less than a minute to go before the puck slid to the other end of the rink for an icing.
At that point, things looked pretty grim as the Lakers struggled to get the puck out of their own end. But through the luck of the hockey gods, a couple of bounces gave Carlson a open look in front of the Ice Dogs’ net with just 15 seconds on the clock.
His game-tying goal set off a variety of reactions on both benches that I’ll long remember.
On one side, the Lakers were jumping up and down like they had just won the lottery. The Ice Dogs, on the other hand, were looking slack-jawed in disbelief that a seemingly picture-perfect road performance abruptly had changed course.
While the books will show Jordan Christianson was the guy who completed the Lakers’ valiant comeback in overtime, this contest could have ended earlier in the extra frame.
Despite having victory snatched from them just moments earlier, the Ice Dogs peppered the Lakers’ net with chances that Talor Joseph turned aside while Brendan Cawston narrowly missed a gorgeous scoring chance for the hosts that many in the stands felt might have gone in.
As the Lakers’ fans hooted and hollered for Christianson’s series-clinching goal at the six-minute mark of overtime, I turned to Fort Frances Bantam ‘AA’ Canadians’ head coach Brent Tookenay and said, “This sports thing is pretty decent, isn’t it?”
I’m not sure I’m going to see another game like this for quite some time, but I’m glad I had a chance to experience it first-hand.
Plus, those special tidbits about last week’s contest will come in handy years down the line when everyone tries to lay claim to being one of the fans in the Ice For Kids Arena for that dramatic affair.