Lakers split opening games at home

Joey Payeur

Facing the unseemly prospect of heading on the road down two games, the Fort Frances Lakers chose to partake in a little R&R on Sunday.
That would stand for Roshen (Jaswal) and Robertson (as in Dylan), who netted crucial third-period goals to lift the two-time defending league champions to a 2-1 victory over the visiting Dryden GM Ice Dogs to even the best-of-seven SIJHL final at 1-1.
After getting outplayed in every aspect of a 6-2 loss in Game 1 here last Thursday, the hill the Lakers had to climb might have turned into a mountain had the Ice Dogs preserved their 1-0 lead after two periods Sunday night.
“We were playing good but just not getting the right bounces,” noted Robertson, the SIJHL’s MVP and scoring champ who had gone more than five periods without a point before shelving the game-winner at 5:30 of the third.
“We talked in the room that we had to get to the net and get some traffic in front,” he added.
“There was confidence we could come out and get rolling.”
The Lakers improved as the game went along. But it looked like they would have nothing to show for it until Jaswal wired a low shot from the right point off the far post and in behind Ice Dogs’ goalie Troy Pierce just 25 seconds into the third not long after a Dryden penalty had expired.
“That was a big one,” grinned Jaswal.
“All game, [Pierce] was playing to one side and I was looking for that angle to the far side,” he remarked.
“Davis [Ross] got the puck to me and I wanted to keep it low in case we could get a rebound, and it happened to hit the post and went in.
“We kept telling ourselves we needed to get that one goal and we’ll roll from there,” he added.
Jaswal’s hunch proved accurate minutes later.
Christian Ripley chipped the puck along the left-wing boards and rocketed down the ice before spying Robertson driving the middle and hitting him in stride with a pass.
Robertson waited until Pierce went into his butterfly stance before wristing the puck over his pad and in.
“It was a great individual effort by Ripley,” lauded Robertson.
“He battled through a bit of a hook and I knew if I gave him any kind of a seam, he was going to find me and he put it right on the tape.”
Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan was relieved to get such contributions after a Game 1 which he called “the worst game we’ve played all year.”
“We talked to Christian because he was having trouble coming out of our zone and not moving his feet, and making soft plays to the middle,” noted Strachan.
“We told him use the boards and that goal . . . that’s what he can do and Dylan made a nice play to cap off the 2-on-1.”
Pierce Dushenko, who was yanked from Game 1 early in the third period after giving up five goals on 21 shots, was the other integral part of the Lakers’ successful equation in Game 2.
The 20-year-old looked more like his usual self with 40 saves—shrugging off Joe Carney’s power-play goal just 1:13 into the game where Robertson unintentionally screened Dushenko on the play.
“Game 1 was not one of my best and, after playing English River seven games in a row, we had to come into the final with a different attitude than we did,” Dushenko admitted.
“I don’t want to blame anything on sickness, but I had a ’flu bug on Thursday and coming into the game, my head wasn’t really into it,” he added.
“[Sunday] when I woke up, I was ready to go.”
Strachan wasn’t hanging the blame for Game 1 solely on Dushenko’s shoulders.
“Pierce has been there all year for us and stood tall time after time this season,” he noted.
“He made that huge toe save early right before the Dryden goal and you knew he was on,” added Strachan.
“He had some key saves for us, especially on two 2-on-1s in the second that definitely helped the cause.”
The Lakers played without forward Jack Bernie, who hurt his shoulder after taking a late-game hit in the opener and is listed as “day-to-day.”
Meanwhile, defenceman Robbie Bonthron remains out indefinitely with post-concussion syndrome.
The battle shifted to Dryden for Game 3 last night (score unavailable at press time), with Game 4 set for there tonight.
Game 5 then goes this Friday (April 22) at 7:30 p.m. back at the Ice For Kids Arena here.
The winner advances to the Dudley Hewitt Cup from May 3-7 in Kirkland Lake.