Tough ending unfolds for Lakers’ captain

As Jeremy Johnson celebrated his series-winning goal for the Minnesota Wilderness in Game 6 of the SIJHL final here Monday night, there might not have been a more disappointed person in the stands at the ’52 Canadians Arena than Fort Frances Lakers’ captain Merritt Rysavy.
The 21-year-old from Sioux Falls, S.D. had been out of action with a left wrist injury for the last three weeks. But there was a possibility he could have been back in the lineup had the Lakers forced a seventh-and-deciding game tonight in Cloquet.
“I’m getting the cast off of my left wrist on Wednesday [today] in Bemidji and having it replaced with a plastic split that I can take on and off if need be,” Rysavy had said prior to Game 6.
“Even if I am just on the bench to give the guys support, it would be great to be a part of it out there as it could potentially be my last game as a Laker,” he noted.
Instead, Rysavy’s last competitive game in the Junior ‘A’ ranks came here March 28 in Game 5 of the SIJHL semi-finals—his season coming to an abrupt end just five minutes into the contest against the Dryden Ice Dogs.
“It was my second shift of the game and I was out there to kill a penalty just five minutes into the period,” Rysavy recalled. “I had made a move to the middle of the ice to try and avoid a check, but my wrist didn’t make it in time and I knew that something was bad as soon as it happened.
“I threw off my glove as soon as I got to the bench and sure enough, the bone was dislocated and sticking out a little bit.
“It wasn’t a pretty sight to see,” he admitted.
This wasn’t the first time that Rysavy had suffered a wrist injury. He dislocated his right wrist in 2011 while playing for the MJHL’s Winkler Flyers.
“I was in a pre-season game for them, and I went to block a hit after I made a shot late in the third period,” he explained. “I thought that it was just a hard slash when it first happened. But once I got back to the bench and took my glove off, I noticed it was a lot worse than that.
“They had to put two pins into my wrist to allow it to heal properly and I ended up missing a lot of time compared to this injury now, so that was the worst injury that I have ever had,” he added.
With Rysavy out of the lineup for the start of the 2011/12 MJHL campaign, the Flyers brought in some more reinforcements up front that shuffled the South Dakota product out of the lineup.
That eventually would cause the Flyers to trade Rysavy to the Lakers, where he’s been a key player in the squad’s two-straight trips to the SIJHL final.
“It’s been a good experience here in Fort Frances,” said Rysavy, who currently is talking with schools as he decides where to play collegiately next season.
“This is the first time in my career where I have played in the same spot for two seasons, and this is a really good place to wrap up my junior hockey career,” he remarked.
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Now that the Minnesota Wilderness have done what many had expected in winning their third-straight Bill Salonen Cup, the biggest question that lies ahead of them is how they’ll perform at the Dudley Hewitt Cup next week in North Bay.
Although they failed to make the playoff round at the annual tournament in their two previous trips, it certainly hasn’t been for a lack of effort.
In 2011, they came out on the losing end in a quadruple-overtime thriller against the Soo (Mich.) Eagles that determined who would head to the semi-finals, then suffered another overtime setback last season in the final round-robin game to be ousted by the host Thunder Bay North Stars.
It goes without saying that the Wilderness will be looking to erase those bitter defeats this time around. But the second-ranked team in all of Canada will be facing some tough challenges once the tournament gets underway on Tuesday (April 30).
The host Trappers and the defending Dudley Hewitt Cup champion Soo Thunderbirds have been bashing each other’s brains in over the last week in their NOJHL final that will draw to a close tonight. But both teams are rock-solid from top to bottom, and can match up well with whoever is in their way.
Also standing in the Wilderness’ path is the OJHL champion St. Michael’s Buzzers, who feature a number of highly-touted players who will be playing in the OHL and the NCAA in coming years, including forward Matt Buckles and Troy Josephs (who are both ranked by NHL Central Scouting ahead of this June’s draft).
While the Wilderness have been very impressive in the SIJHL all season long (evident by the fact they only lost five times in 56 regular-season games), it’s an entirely different task to go up against league champions from elsewhere in Ontario than the teams they’ve dominated over the last few months.
However, this squad is the most impressive of the three that have gone to the Dudley Hewitt Cup, and anything less than a semi-final appearance would be a shock to yours truly.