It truly is the “dog days” of the SIJHL regular season and it has had its effect on the Fort Frances Lakers.
The undermanned Lakers weren’t able to keep up with the league-leading Thunder Bay North Stars in a 5-0 loss here Friday night but rebounded with a big 6-2 win over the visiting Minnesota Iron Rangers in a Family Day matinee.
Injuries and illness have plagued the Lakers of late and they’ll need to get some bodies back into the lineup if they are to have success in this week’s games.
The fifth-place Lakers (16-25-2-1) were slated to face the North Stars (37-3-1-1) once again last night, with the outcome not known as of press time, before hosting the last-place Iron Rangers (3-44-0-0) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The squad then will cap the week with a road game the following night against the fourth-place Dryden GM Ice Dogs (22-17-3-2).
“Tomorrow [Tuesday] we definitely need a bounce-back,” Lakers’ head coach/general manager Wayne Strachan said after Monday’s win against the Iron Rangers.
“I think we’ve played well in Thunder Bay throughout the year,” he noted.
“We just need to, in our minds, believe that we can walk in that building [Fort William Gardens] and if we play to our strengths and get them a little uncomfortable in their game, we can have success if we put our minds to it.
“You know, it’s going to be a tough week playing four games, with having today’s [Monday’s] as well,” Strachan admitted. “And even with a short turnaround to next week’s game with just [next] Monday off, we’re going to need a lot of rest.
“We’ll take this Wednesday [today] off, we’ll skate again Thursday and Friday, and then prepare for the two games [against the Iron Rangers and Ice Dogs].
“But we gotta worry about our own game right now and get ourselves ready for moving into the playoffs,” he stressed.
As for the Lakers’ games this past weekend, MacKenzie Flett scored twice to pace the squad to victory over the Iron Rangers.
Kaleb Bruyere opened the scoring for Fort Frances 12:30 into the first period when he buried the rebound of Chase Robideau’s shot past Iron Rangers’ goalie Synjen Amende at the right side of the net.
Brett Hahkala doubled the lead 6:36 into the second when he took a pass from Isaac Baron at the point and snapped a shot that fooled Amende.
After Erik Engdahl (unsportsmanlike conduct) and Matt Turnbull (hooking) were whistled, Anthony Antonelli made the Iron Rangers pay when he fired home a shot from the point on the ensuing two-man advantage at 13:29 to put the hosts up by three.
Flett then buried a feed from Ethan Knutsen just over a minute later to push it to 4-0.
Elias Thompson did get one back for last-place Minnesota (3-44-0-0) later in the frame when he shook off the backcheck of the Lakers’ Cole Allan before getting free to the right side of Matt Booth and beating him with a low shot to trim it to 4-1 with 27 seconds left.
Brendan Burns then halved the deficit 3:19 into the third when his shot eluded Booth on a man advantage.
Not to be outdone, Allan pulled off a highlight-reel goal when he went end-to-end–deking through the Iron Rangers’ defence before lifting a backhander over Amende to restore the Lakers’ three-goal cushion just past the 10-minute mark.
Booth drew the lone assist on the play.
Flett then capped the scoring when he skated the puck out from the sideboards before unleashing a cannon of a shot past Amende for his second of the afternoon at 18:50.
Booth made 20 saves to earn the win while Amende stopped 42 shots in taking the loss.
“It took us a little bit to get going in the first [period],” Strachan noted. “But I thought once we got the [first] goal, I thought we put a lot more pressure on them and obviously controlled the play and controlled the period.
“If you look at the shots on goal, we outshot them like 19-8 or something like that and most of their shots were from the perimeter.
“In the second, I thought we did a good job of coming out and pressuring them again and causing turnovers, spent a lot of time in their end,” he added.
It was a much different story Friday night for the short-handed Lakers as Jacob Brown tallied twice and added an assist to lead the North Stars to victory.
Icing a lineup of just 14 skaters, the Lakers couldn’t muster up enough to avoid their 25th regulation loss of the season.
Alex Erwin picked up the eventual game-winner for Thunder Bay 6:44 into the contest as he fired home his 18th goal of the season.
Brown then added his first of the night later in the frame as the visitors carried a 2-0 cushion into the intermission.
The North Stars added to their lead in the second when Keighan Gerrie circled around in the high slot before corralling the puck and snapping his 32nd past Gnidziejko at 2:23.
Jonathan Kilby then swiped the puck off a Laker in the third before skating down the right wing and wiring a shot high past Gnidziejko at 4:10.
Brown then finished off a Gerrie feed at 15:09 to cap the scoring.
Brock Aiken made 22 saves to earn his league-leading fifth shutout while Gnidziejko faced 48 shots in defeat.
“I didn’t mind our start,” Strachan said. “I thought the first couple of shifts we were into it.
“Then I thought after that first power play, we had things just didn’t go our way, or go right, and it kind of set the tone for the rest of our game.
“It’s not that we struggled, it’s just we didn’t get it going,” he noted. “We didn’t have enough compete in us consistently and against a team like that, you give them any little opportunity, they’re going to take advantage of it.
“You know, they did a good job of that in controlling the play and creating offence against us.”
On the injury front, Strachan is hopeful forward Jaedin Ness (shoulder), along with defencemen Presten Bobyk (upper body), Dane Bateman (upper body), and Keon Fox (ankle), could be back in the lineup sooner than later.
“I think Ness is close. Hopefully by the weekend–Saturday–he’s ready,” Strachan said.
“I think Bobyk is also close,” he added. “Obviously we need some of our ‘D’ to get back.
“With Bateman, we got some good news about him today [Friday], so he can get back into hockey protocol or hockey activities now with his injury.
“‘Foxy’ is kind of day-to-day on how his ankle has been feeling,” Strachan noted.
“He still doesn’t have a lot of power so I don’t maybe foresee him this week,” he revealed. “But the other three, we’re definitely hopeful we have them for the weekend.”