Dupuis keeps Stars alive

Joey Payeur

The Fort Frances Lakers’ early-game effort was questionable.
By the time they got that sorted out, Nathaniel Dupuis had all the answers.
The Thunder Bay North Stars netminder racked up 47 saves as his team scored four times in the first period and then held on for a 6-5 victory over the Lakers in Game 4 of their best-of-seven semi-final on Tuesday in Thunder Bay.
The Stars avoided the sweep, although the Lakers get another chance to close them out tonight in Game 5 at the Ice for Kids Arena at 7:30 p.m.
Fort Frances outshot the Stars 52-28 in the game, including a whopping 42-12 over the final two periods, but Dupuis was equal to the task.
“I believe we just didn’t have the intensity needed or weren’t focused to play and we allowed them to gain momentum,” said Lakers general manager and head coach Wayne Strachan.
“(The Stars) played a strong first 30 minutes and we were not up to the challenge in any aspect of the game,” he continued.
“We made bad decisions with the puck and had bad defensive play,” noted Strachan.
Dupuis took the loss in the Fort’s 6-2 win in Game 1 and then relieved Mann in the second period in Game 3’s 5-4 Lakers win.
But while he wasn’t perfect, he was good enough to keep his team’s season alive.
“Dupuis was on, he was focused, much like (Fort goalie Nathan) Park in Game 3,” summarized Strachan.
“You need your goalie to be big in the playoffs and (Dupuis) was up to the challenge,” he added.
“He made numerous big saves and in the end was probably the difference in the outcome of the game.
“We need to continue to press,” stressed Strachan.
“We have to have the mentality we had in the third period and we have to continue to put quality shots on whomever is in their net and shots that give us a chance to have success,” he added.
Ryan Walsh opened the scoring for Thunder Bay at 1:24 of the first period against Pierce Dushenko, who made his first appearance since March 11 to give Park a rest after the SIJHL’s top goalie this year started the first three games of the series.
It was the first of three power-play goals in only five chances for the Stars in the contest.
Bowen Alcock scored for the second straight game at 6:40 to tie the affair and Nolan Ross notched a go-ahead marker for the Fort 49 seconds later.
But the Stars would score the next four goals in the contest, starting with Daniel McKitrick’s equalizer only 11 seconds after Ross’ tally.
Nicholas Nigro, who finished with a game-high four points, put Thunder Bay back in front at 11:28 and Kenny Turner stretched the lead to 4-2 with another man-advantage marker at 18:23.
Matthias Gardiman bumped the lead to three at 4:01 of the second before Nick Minerva’s power-play blast and team-leading sixth point of the series at 11:09 narrowed the gap to 5-3.
Fort Frances launched an all-out assault in the third, outshooting Thunder Bay 22-4 and getting within one on Wyatt Cota’s goal.
But after Colton Spicer was tagged for colliding with Dupuis in the Stars’ crease, Thunder Bay got its payback when Kris Kellaway bulged the twine at 8:05.
Strachan wasn’t laying too much fault at Dushenko’s feet.
“Can’t fault him for the first goal . . . It hits off a couple of skates and finds the net,” noted Strachan, who received two points apiece from Ross, Cota and Mason Meyer.
“I am sure he would have liked the fourth and sixth goals back,” the coach added.
“On the others, we just had breakdowns that allowed good scoring chances and put him in a tough bind.
“He is a strong goalie and has to forget about (Tuesday) night,” emphasized Strachan.
“We will need him to get back to his game if we are going to have any chance of success in our playoffs.”
The Lakers lived in the Thunder Bay zone the entire final stanza, but Dupuis stayed solid, giving up only Ross’ second of the night with 11 seconds left to play.
Fort blueliner Gordon Campbell sat out with an undisclosed injury after blocking a shot in Game 3.
That meant Roshen Jaswal drew back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch the past two games due to his composure issues with the referee at the end of Game 1.
Lucas DeBenedet (leg) missed his third straight game and isn’t scheduled to resume skating until next week, while Donovan Cousineau (lower-body) remains out indefinitely.
The pressure is now greater for the Lakers to wrap up the series tonight, as the Dryden GM Ice Dogs could do the same in Game 5 of their series with the Minnesota Iron Rangers tonight in Hoyt Lakes, Minn.
Dryden took a 3-1 lead in that series with a 5-3 triumph in Game 4 at home on Tuesday.
“I think ending a series in the quickest amount of time is always important,” declared Strachan.
“We don’t want to give them any more life then we already have, so we need to be prepared and ready to be at our best to give ourselves the chance to end it in Game 5.”