You have to start somewhere and Wayne Strachan believed it was a decent start.
The head coach and general manager of the Fort Frances Lakers saw his team show some mid-season fight despite a 4-3 shootout loss to the Minnesota Iron Rangers in their SIJHL exhibition opener Friday night at the Ice For Kids Arena.
“I thought we got better as the game went on,” said Strachan.
“After the first, we knew we needed to pick it up.
“I thought they did a good job of responding,” he added. “Through the game, I felt like we carried the play.
“There is always room for improvement but we worked hard.”
Three newcomers made their mark for the Lakers with a goal and an assist apiece.
Jeff Venzon gave the Lakers a first-period lead before Clayton Brown tied it heading into intermission.
Brown netted the lone marker of the second to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead.
Jaedin Ness pulled the Lakers even with less than six minutes to go–only to watch Harrison Bjurgo put the Iron Rangers back in front less than two minutes later.
With the visitors looking to lock things up, Damien Caringi forced overtime by notching the equalizer with just 20 seconds left.
“I believe it was a play in the neutral zone where our winger, Ness, came off the wall and got the puck into the middle, where Venzon passed it wide to Caringi, who walked down and roofed the shot over the goalie’s glove,” Strachan recalled.
“Good execution and support on the line rush helped lead to the opportunity,” he noted.
“I thought all three played well,” Strachan said of his team’s marksmen.
“You look for guys that can raise their level of play in key opportunities, and I felt these three did a good job of that in helping contribute to the cause.”
With nothing decided in overtime, the teams went to a shootout to determine the winner.
It was the Iron Rangers who prevailed on goals by Brown and Joel Nagy.
The Lakers only could manage a goal by Caringi.
Jackson Nelson got the win in goal while Rob Ivey took the loss for the Lakers, whose defence Strachan termed “not bad.”
“We did give up too many odd-man rushes, as well as breakaways,” he conceded.
“So we need to tighten up in that aspect, watch our reads, our pinches, and make sure we have a third man or support to help limit these type of situations through the hockey game,” Strachan noted.
“We need to get better at containing our coverage in our own end.”
Strachan gave kudos to a Minnesota squad that looked much more formidable under new head coach Todd Kreibich than it did most of last season, when the last-place Iron Rangers went an abysmal 7-46-3.
“I thought they worked hard,” Strachan said of the Iron Rangers.
“I know Todd has recruited hard this off season to improve his hockey team.
“They are still looking to add a few pieces, but first indication is they will be a hard-working team,” he noted.
Caringi, who sustained a charley horse during training camp, got through to the end of Friday’s game but now is listed as “day-to-day” with the injury.
Also out “day-to-day” are veteran forward Julian Uhryniuk (foot) and rookie Fort Frances product Noah Loveday (leg).
The two teams will battle again tonight in Hoyt Lakes to complete the home-and-home series.
Then it will be another home-and-home clash for the Lakers to close out their pre-season schedule–this time against the English River Miners.
The first game goes here Friday at 7:30 p.m., with the back half set for Saturday in Red Lake.
Regular-season action gets underway Sept. 22 when the Lakers hosts the Thief River Falls Norskies.