Lakers, ’Dogs split games here

Joey Payeur

Mason Meyer may have been the least happy person ever to score a playoff hat trick.
“It doesn’t mean much if you lose the game,” the Fort Frances Lakers’ forward said after his three-goal effort in a 5-4 loss to the Dryden GM Ice Dogs here Friday night that evened the best-of-seven SIJHL final at 1-1.
“You can’t give the other team five goals and expect to win the game,” he added outside a quiet Lakers’ dressing room following a volcanic post-game tirade by enraged head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“I hope that was the wake-up call that we’ve got to bring it every night, myself included, and play up to our potential,” Meyer noted.
The teams squared off in Game 3 last night in Dryden (the outcome was unknown as of press time), with Game 4 going there tonight.
Game 5 will be back here Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Game 6, if necessary, will be played in Dryden on Saturday (not Sunday as previously reported).
Should the series go the distance, Game 7 is set for here next Tuesday (April 21) at 7:30 p.m.
The Ice Dogs played inspired hockey in tribute to absent defenceman Craig Cross, who left the team before the final to be with his father, who passed away the day of their 6-2 loss in Game 1 here Thursday night.
With regulars Ryan Hron, Zachary Kercz, and Drew Walskie back in the lineup after missing Game 1 due to injury, Dryden looked to be the much more focused team.
The Ice Dogs scored five-straight goals, including four in the second period, after Meyer had opened the scoring with the lone goal of the first on a backhander from in close.
Kyle Pouncy tied it early in the second with a top-shelf one-timer over the shoulder of Lakers’ starting goalie Nathan Park after Walske won a battle along the end boards and centered the puck.
League MVP and scoring champ Cole Golka then put the visitors ahead five minutes later with his third goal in two games on a dynamite snapshot.
Midget call-up Brandon Bartlett kept things going Dryden’s way on a two-man advantage at 14:41, when Pouncy’s point blast hit him in front and deflected past Park.
Kavanaugh then outhustled a pair of Lakers to the puck behind the Fort net and fed Blake Berg, whose centering pass instantly was zipped in by an unchecked Matt Houston.
Jonathan Philley had Golka’s shot hit him and go in just 27 seconds into the third—signalling an end to Park’s night in favour of Pierce Dushenko.
It marked the first time since joining the Lakers in mid-December that Park was pulled for reasons other than injury or illness.
The Lakers sprang to life shortly thereafter, with Meyer pounding home Bryson Jasper’s pass on the doorstep just over three minutes into the frame.
Then only 1:24 after that, Dylan Robertson motored down the left-wing boards and drove to the net to shove home a backhander past Ice Dogs’ goalie Tate Sproxton to make it 5-3.
The Ice Dogs were their own worst enemy the rest of the way—taking four penalties, including a double-minor to Golka for high-sticking Dylan Kooner.
But the Lakers’ normally reliable power-play fizzled on all four attempts.
With Dushenko on the bench for an extra skater, Meyer ran his team-leading post-season total to 11 points, and gave the desperate home crowd hope, by cashing in on a scramble in front with 29.1 seconds to go.
But the Lakers never re-established themselves in Dryden’s zone in the dying seconds and now have lost home-ice advantage in the series.
“We were not ready to play,” an upset Strachan said after calling out his team’s effort level in a paint-peeling rant in the dressing room.
“We were selfish the whole game and didn’t play as a team,” he added.
“We didn’t adhere to our system and we didn’t want to pay the price tonight.”
Lakers’ defenceman Sam Schultz suggested his team came in without the hunger needed to capture a championship.
“We didn’t get enough shots on net and there wasn’t a lot of crashing the net,” he remarked.
“Maybe the [Game 1] win gave us too much confidence and had us come in cocky tonight.”
The Lakers’ success in the opener was tempered by the loss of a pair of forwards in MVP finalist Lucas DeBenedet and Nolan Ross, who is second on the squad with five playoff goals.
DeBenedet, who had an assist in the game, re-injured the same leg that kept him out of the final four games of the semi-final series against the Thunder Bay North Stars.
There was no indication when he may return.
Ross, meanwhile, practised Monday and was expected back in the lineup for Game 3 last night.
The same is likely for defenceman Gordon Campbell, who also exited Game 1 after the puck deflected into his throat, forcing fill-in right-winger Robbie Bonthron to return to his normal spot on the blueline.
Forward Donovan Cousineau remains sidelined indefinitely.