Lakers facing uphill battle to end season

Jamie Mountain

With their first-round playoff showdown looming, the English River Miners exacted some revenge against the Fort Frances Lakers with a 5-2 victory Saturday night at the Ice For Kids Arena.
This came after the Lakers had beaten the Miners by scores of 6-1 and 5-1 in their previous two meetings.
“They just brought some intensity to the game that we didn’t have,” Lakers’ assistant coach Nick Wreggitt said afterwards.
“We were flat,” he admitted. “We kind of didn’t really seem interested for the first 20 minutes.
“We had a lot guys kinda playing their own agenda, and not sticking to our game plan and not to the Laker way of wanting to play the game.”
It was all Miners in the opening 20 minutes as they got tallies from Ethan Wong, Nic Herringer, and Terix Fischer-Kobes’ (power play) to set the tone early.
Jaedin Ness finally got the Lakers on the board at 11:43 of the second when he snapped a shot past Miners’ goalie Michael Lenko on a man advantage.
Ness tallied again less than three minutes later when he put home a saucer pass from Nick Lucas to bring the Lakers within a goal.
“I think once we got that first goal on the power play there, it kinda woke the boys up,” noted Wreggitt.
“Brought a little bit of energy to the bench and, at times, I don’t think our power play has brought a lot of that this year,” he remarked.
“So it was nice that it kinda got us going and hopefully we get it going the rest of the year,” Wreggitt added.
“We’re going to need it.”
But the Lakers’ comeback bid fell short as Dante Tisi connected on a power-play chance just under a minute into third before Spencer Milne capped the scoring at 13:54.
Wong and Jacob Siebenga chipped in with two assists apiece for the Miners.
Lenko earned the win, finishing with 28 saves, while Ismael Ralsten had 27 stops in taking the loss.
Ness continued his impressive offensive pace for the Lakers.
With his two-goal effort Saturday night, he boosted his team-leading goal total to 29 while also topping the squad with 42 points.
“With Nick Lucas on my line and Ian Tookenay, we all have a good chemistry,” Ness enthused after the game.
“They give me the puck a lot so I’m able to bury it whenever they give me the puck.”
When Ness found out he was just one shy of the 30-goal plateau, he didn’t put too much stock into it.
“I just feel like I do my job out there,” he reasoned. “I think that a big part of my play is when I just come into the zone and make stuff happen, I guess.
“I don’t really look into the stats a lot,” Ness added.
“I really care about winning so I don’t really pay attention to it.”
The fifth-place Lakers (15-30-2-4) went into Saturday night’s game on the heels of a 3-0 shutout loss to the third-place Thunder Bay North Stars (33-12-4-1) last Tuesday at the Fort William Gardens.
Thunder Bay outshot Fort Frances 33-14 after 40 minutes but they couldn’t beat Ralsten.
Avery Siau finally put the North Stars on the board when he swiped the puck from a defender and broke in alone.
He then cut left before tucking the night’s opening tally past Ralsten’s outstretched pad while short-handed at 6:50 of the third.
Ryan Mignault later connected just seconds after a Lakers’ penalty had expired as he lifted a backhand high over Ralsten from close range.
The Lakers pulled Ralsten in the final minute but Alexander Erwin knocked down a pass in the neutral zone before skating in and capping the scoring with an empty-netter.
Dougie Newhouse turned aside all 17 shots he faced to record his first SIJHL shutout while Ralsten stopped 45 in taking the loss.
Only five games now remain in the SIJHL regular season, and the Lakers play out the year against teams that are above them in the standings.
They host the fourth-place Miners (26-21-0-4)–who they’re slated to face in the best-of-five quarter-finals–again tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Fort Frances then caps the week by welcoming the league-leading Thief River Falls Norskies (38-9-2-2) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Wreggitt knows his squad has a big hill in front of them in their upcoming playoff series against English River.
“I think the Miners came in with a purpose, wanted to prove a point,” he remarked.
“We’re gonna be battling them in that first round of the playoffs [so] I think they wanted to show that they’re not going to be an easy pushover, and they’re not,” he stressed.
“Hopefully, our boys respond to it and I think, looking ahead to that, it’s going to be a real good playoff series.”
Wreggitt believes being prepared and hungry will be key to the Lakers coming out ahead in the next few games.
“They’re a hard-working team,” he said of the Miners. “We say it all the time, they’re in your face and battle hard.
“We gotta be jacked up to match it for the full 60 minutes.
“Looking ahead to Thief River, kind of the same thing,” Wreggitt said. “We gotta be ready to go right off the bat, they’re a well-skating team.
“They’ve had a couple of rough patches here and there right from the second half of the season on, and they’re gonna be hungry to get their game going for the playoffs,” he warned.