The Fort Frances Lakers have shown they can hang with the best in the SIJHL but know they still have a lot to work to do.
A four-goal effort from captain Nick Lucas helped the Lakers to a 6-4 win over the Dryden GM Ice Dogs last Tuesday (Oct. 16) at the Ice For Kids Arena that snapped a two-game losing streak.
But the Lakers were in tough against the front-running North Stars in Thunder Bay on Friday night, ultimately losing a narrow 2-1 decision to see their record fall to 5-5-0-0 on the young season.
“We discussed [on Tuesday] the importance of our veterans–and older players–leading the way and showing our younger guys our systems, the work ethic needed, and being focused,” said Lakers’ head coach/general manager Wayne Strachan.
“It seemed and looked like Nick took it to heart,” he noted. “He is a huge part of our team being the captain.
“What he does usually dictates how our team goes and when he helps on the scoresheet, we tend to have success.”
The Lakers next host the North Stars (9-0-1-0) this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena before battling the Thief River Norskies (3-6-2-0) at the Ralph Engelstad Arena the following night.
Strachan knows his squad will have to work hard on honing their defensive systems in order to come out on top in both games.
“[We’re] not going to stray that far from what we have worked on in our team defensive game,” he stressed.
“Concentrating on little things, taking the body, positioning, heads on a swivel, and finding your man are all areas that will continue to grow our game to shut teams down.”
Strachan said the North Stars have strong goaltending, with the key to beating them is to make them frustrated.
“Defensively, you can get to them and take advantage of some deficiencies they have,” he remarked.
“You need to make the game hard on them, play in their face and they will take penalties.
“You cannot run-and-gun with them,” Strachan stressed. “Their offensive ability, from their defenceman to their forwards, is strong and the skill and speed they have will hurt you.”
Strachan also knows in order to have success moving forward, his players will need to concentrate on their game and what they can control.
“We have areas to improve in, and we need to be serious about our work ethic and wanting to develop our game in those areas,” he reasoned.
“That will be our focus at this time on a daily basis for each and every opponent we have coming up.”
As for last week’s games, the Lakers kicked things off with a thrilling win over the visiting Ice Dogs on the back of Lucas’ big night.
After recently returning to the Lakers’ lineup following a knee injury, Ethan Knusten netted his first SIJHL goal on a wrister from the slot to open the scoring just 1:42 into the game.
Evan Pakkala drew Dryden (4-3-2-0) even at 7:32 but Lucas notched his first of the night on a man-advantage just over five minutes later with a shot that went off the crossbar and in to put the Lakers back up 2-1.
Eric Stout capitalized on a juicy rebound off Lakers’ goalie Jacob Gnidziejko and promptly fired home the equalizer at 12:26 of the second.
Then with just 41 seconds to go in the frame, Jacob Siebenga gave the Ice Dogs the lead of the night when he tipped in a point shot while Dryden applied sustained pressure in the Lakers’ zone.
The lead was short-lived, though. Carter Brown took a double-minor spearing penalty soon after and it proved costly for his team as Lucas made it 3-3 with a tip on a blast from the point just 13 seconds into the power play.
Then Lucas scored his third of the game on a shot just before the buzzer that put the Lakers back in front 4-3 after 40 minutes.
Cole Allan netted his second of the season on a cross-ice feed from Kirk Coppock 14:49 into third to widen it to 5-3.
The Ice Dogs pulled goalie Carson Murison with under two minutes to go in regulation time in an attempt to tie it, and made good when Cameron Coutre beat Gnidziejko to trim it to 5-4 with 1:13 left.
But Lucas capped his four-goal outburst with an empty-netter with 12 seconds to go to preserve the Lakers’ fifth win of the season.
Gnidziejko made 33 saves to earn the win while Murison took the loss after surrendering five goals on 33 shots.
“We played our game plan, were disciplined, we were focused, battled hard, were positive and [had] a lot of energy,” Strachan said about the win over the Ice Dogs.