The Fort Frances Lakers have some more confidence in their game after a weekend sweep against the Minnesota Iron Rangers.
The Lakers took care of business with a pair of 7-2 wins against the last-place Iron Rangers (3-40-0-0) in Hoyt Lakes on Friday and Saturday.
Fort Frances was relentless on pucks and maintained steady pressure in the Iron Rangers’ zone.
“After being a bit tight in the first periods, I thought we did a good job through the last 40 minutes of both games in really controlling the play, and our puck management was strong,” Lakers’ head coach/general manager Wayne Strachan enthused.
“[They were] some of the best cycle games down low we have had this season.
“For the most part, we had a mix-match of lines through both games, with sickness still being a problem for us,” he added.
“I thought, as a team, everyone contributed at some point in each game.”
That better puck management will be crucial for the fifth-place Lakers (15-24-2-1) this week as they are slated to host the top-ranked Thunder Bay North Stars (34-3-1-1) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The North Stars only have lost once in their past 10 games and have taken all seven games against the Lakers so far this season.
“We are going to have to be strong in both areas to have success against the high-powered North Stars,” Strachan conceded.
“We have to play our systems and be in their face to slow their speed down.”
The Lakers then will host the Iron Rangers in a Family Day matinee on Monday (Feb. 18) at 2:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena before hitting the road to face the North Stars the following night in Thunder Bay.
As for the weekend wins against the Iron Rangers, the Lakers used a well-balanced attack in getting goals from seven different players Saturday night.
Minnesota did start off strong by opening the scoring two minutes into the game on Matt Turnbull’s fourth of the season.
But the Lakers got that back before the midway point on Noah Loveday’s sixth.
Fort Frances then broke it open with five goals in the second period.
Nate Drobnick and Cole Allan started the outburst with markers just over a minute apart before Isaac Baron, Anthony Antonelli, and Chase Robideau tallied in rapid succession later in the period to put the visitors up 6-1 after 40 minutes.
Brett Hahkala added to the Lakers’ cushion 9:08 into the third before Turnbull’s second of the game capped the scoring.
Kaleb Bruyere and Ethan Knutsen each had two assists to help the Lakers’ offence.
Matt Booth made 29 saves to earn the win while Nick Corneliusen turned aside 56 shots in taking the loss.
On Friday night, Dane Bateman scored once and added three assists to help the Lakers start the weekend on the right foot.
Fort Frances gained control early by taking a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes on goals by Baron, Jacob Ruck, and Knutsen.
The Lakers then tacked on two more in the second on Bateman’s fourth of the season and Kirk Coppock’s 12th (short-handed).
Minnesota got on the board at 16:28 of the frame thanks to Garrett Wojcicki’s 10th, only to see MacKenzie Flett answer for the visitors just a couple of shifts later.
Knutsen then added another, assisted by Coppock and Bateman, to make it 7-1 in the third before Joshua Baker connected on the power play in the late going to cap the scoring.
Reece Hopfner chipped in with a pair of assists for the Lakers.
Jacob Gnidziejko made 21 saves to earn the win while Synjen Amende and Corneliusen both saw time between the pipes in defeat, facing a combined 46 shots.
“I thought we played really well below the hash marks in both zones this past weekend,” Strachan lauded.
“We didn’t allow them [Iron Rangers] a lot of time in our zone and we controlled the play deep in their end to create offence.”
On the injury front, Loveday returned to the lineup for both games this past weekend after missing time with a hand injury.
“His work ethic is endless, he is a strong 200-foot player, and he found the scoresheet a few times,” Strachan said of how he felt Loveday transitioned back into the lineup.
“So it was good to see him back.”
As well, Strachan said the team was hopeful forward Jaedin Ness could be back in the lineup–possibly even in time for Friday night’s game here against Thunder Bay.
“We are hoping Ness maybe can go by the weekend,” Strachan remarked. “We will see how he progresses this week.”
Defencemen Presten Bobyk (upper body), Bateman (upper body), and Keon Fox (ankle), meanwhile, all will miss some time due to their ailments.
“Not sure on any of their statuses for this weekend as they need to be evaluated more today, I hope,” Strachan had said Monday.