Chewing on a loss for three days left the Fort Frances Lakers hungry for redemption.
Nick Minerva ended his early-season points drought with a critical third-period goal, along with two earlier assists, as the Lakers beat the visiting Minnesota Iron Rangers 5-2 on Saturday night.
Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan liked what he saw from his team against Minnesota after its first loss of the season—a 6-3 setback against the host Thunder Bay North Stars last Wednesday—that led to the Lakers plummeting from No. 8 to No. 16 in this week’s Canadian Junior Hockey League’s top 20 rankings.
“I thought we kind of got off to a slow start on Saturday,” admitted Strachan.
“But the biggest differences in the second and third were we had the compete level needed to have success,” he noted.
“We used our strengths, moved our feet, moved the puck, and played as a team.”
Minerva tied for the team lead in scoring by defencemen with 26 points last season but hadn’t registered a point in his first four games of his second go-round with the Lakers—not that Strachan was worried.
“I thought even though Nick hasn’t contributed a lot on the scoresheet, he has played well,” Strachan said.
“He has competed and has played strong defensively.
“Saturday, he read the ice well, jumped into holes, and created a lot just from moving his feet,” added Strachan.
After the teams traded power-play goals in the first period, the Lakers took control early in the second when Andrew Willner cashed in on a set-up from Dylan Robertson and Cole Tymkin to make it 2-1.
Dylan Kooner then notched his fourth goal in five games.
The Iron Rangers cut the lead to 3-2 early in the third but Minerva killed any momentum just over a minute later with the Lakers’ second power-play goal in four chances.
“I believe our power play is improving and has scored some key goals in games we have had success,” said Strachan.
“We have settled down on it, and realized playing our positions and moving the puck are key,” he noted.
Strachan also highlighted a penalty-killing unit that held the Iron Rangers to just one goal in six opportunities.
“I think our penalty-killing unit has also played well, but it seems we have had one mental breakdown in each game to allow a goal,” he remarked.
“If we could stay sharp and continue to improve, I like where we are getting to with our special teams.”
Carter Chorney rounded out the scoring with an empty-netter.
Lakers’ goalie Brandon Bodnar made 24 saves to win his second-straight start in his rookie Junior ‘A’ campaign as the back-up to Pierce Dushenko.
Kyle Carignan made 39 saves in taking the loss for the first-place Iron Rangers (5-3).
“I thought they came out of the gates playing well,” Strachan said of Minnesota.
“They were working hard and competing in the first.
“I think the first shift of the second, and scoring on the second shift in the second, changed the momentum as we hemmed them in and we started to build confidence and take control of the game,” he noted.
But the Lakers looked far less formidable against last-place Thunder Bay (1-6-0-1) last Wednesday.
“I believe we saw the rankings and felt a little to comfortable about our play,” Strachan mused.
“We were beat by a team that competed harder and wanted it more.
“They were hungry and took advantage of a team that wasn’t ready to play,” he reasoned.
On the injury front, forward Zach Bennett was back in the lineup against Minnesota ahead of schedule after originally thinking he would miss several weeks with a shoulder injury.
The Lakers also were short a defenceman Saturday, with Strachan announcing Nova Scotia native Craig Murray, who had missed multiple games due to illness, has left the team.
His spot was to be filled by defenceman Brandon Zajicek, a 19-year-old from Albertville, Mn. who was expected to be in the lineup for last night’s game here against the Dryden GM Ice Dogs.
The Lakers next head to Hoyt Lakes this Saturday to face the Iron Rangers.
Then they’ll host the Ice Dogs again next Tuesday (Oct. 13) at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.