Lakers get back on track with pair of wins

Jamie Mountain

The Fort Frances Lakers were able to get another pair of wins under their belts last week and they will be looking to build off that moving forward this SIJHL season.
Fort Frances got a 62-save performance out of goalie Alex Bugeja to nab a 3-1 road win over the expansion Wisconsin Lumberjacks last Wednesday and then followed that up with a convincing 6-2 win over the host Dryden GM Ice Dogs on Friday night.
The wins improved the Lakers’ record to 4-2, good enough for third place in the six-team league heading into last night’s game against the host fifth-place Thief River Falls Norskies (1-4-1).
The outcome wasn’t known as of press time.
“I liked that we stayed composed for the most part,” Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said of Friday’s road win in Dryden.
“Our focus was on the task. The power play came alive and we stood up for one another.”
After spending much of the early season dormant, the Lakers’ power play sparked to life with three goals on nine opportunities in Friday’s win over the Ice Dogs (3-2-1 heading into last night).
That effort raised their power play to 13.8 percent efficiency.
Jack Lane had a pair of power-play goals while Nick Swain and MacKenzie Flett both had three-point nights to pace the offence.
Jaxon Krupa knocked in his first SIJHL goal on a goal-mouth scramble 2:16 into the first period to open the scoring for the Ice Dogs.
But Lane answered with his two man-advantage markers later in the frame to put the Lakers ahead 2-1 after 20 minutes.
Fort Frances came out to begin the middle frame with another power play and made quick work as captain Noah Loveday struck just 14 seconds in to the frame with his fifth of the season.
Ethan Carlson-Jourdain put the Lakers up by three shortly after that as he came down the right wing and roofed one to put an end to Ice Dogs’ goalie Jacob Anthony’s night in favour on Dawson Rattai at 4:09.
After Dryden had hit the post, the Lakers came right back and added another on a scrum in front, with Swain supplying his fourth of the season to make it 5-1.
The Ice Dogs did get one back during a late power play in the session as Dylan Winsor was there to stuff in his first of the season from close range on Lakers’ goalie Dylan Kosik.
But Flynn Perry’s initial SIJHL tally in the third rounded out the scoring and helped the Lakers to their fourth win of the season.
Kosik was busy in earning the victory as he was credited with 48 saves.
Anthony allowed four goals-against on 21 shots to take the loss while Rattai handled 14-of-16 attempts in nearly 36 minutes of relief.
Swain’s three-point night now has him sitting atop the SIJHL scoring leaderboard with nine points in just six games (four goals, five assists).
“Nick has been a pleasant surprise offensively,” Strachan enthused.
“He has a good skill set, goes to the net hard and has a knack for scoring.”
Last Wednesday night, the Lakers used Bugeja’s outstanding performance between the pipes, along with a three-goal outburst in the first period, to escape with a 3-1 win over the Lumberjacks (0-5-1) at the Spooner Civic Center.
Although they were outshot 18-12 in the first period, it was the Lakers who picked up the first three tallies of the game in quick order, connecting in just over a four-minute span to jump out to a 3-0 lead.
Loveday opened the scoring at 8:38 as he stuffed one under Lumberjacks’ goalie Nathan Mueller from the top of the crease.
He then struck again just 22 seconds later after taking a feed from the corner into the slot and whipping one into the top right-hand corner to put the visitors up by a pair.
Fort Frances then got a fortunate break to go up by three when MacKenzie Flett snapped an attempt toward the net from the right point that clipped off a Lumberjacks’ defender and sailed high past Mueller and in at 12:54.
From there, the Lumberjacks continued to pump shots on Bugeja but could not solve him until the late stages of regulation.
On a power play deep into the third, and with Mueller pulled for the extra-attacker, the hosts finally dashed Bugeja’s shutout bid with 1:11 remaining when Joel Matthews snagged the puck off a Fort Frances backhanded clearing attempt and fed Cade Moreland, who came in a wired a shot into the top left portion of the net to put Wisconsin on the board.
The hosts pulled Mueller a couple more times after that, but couldn’t find a way to knot it up.
Perry assisted on all three Lakers’ tallies in the first period while Lane had a couple of helpers.
Loveday picked up an assist of his own for a three-point night and was also named the SIJHL’s Play It Again Sports player-of-the-week on Monday after supplying the game-winning goal in both contests last week and registering five points in total.
Mueller finished with 31 saves in a losing cause for the Lumberjacks.
“It was the biggest reason why we won,” Strachan said of Bugeja’s stellar performance in goal.
“Not sure the shot total was accurate, but they did outshoot us and Alex made several key stops.”
The Lakers will wrap up the week with a home-and-home series against the Lumberjacks that starts Friday night here at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Fort Frances then will head to Spooner the following night to complete the set.
Trainer’s room
Lakers’ forward Tyler Malpass made his season debut in Wednesday’s win over the Lumberjacks, while he picked up his first point of the year with an assist in Friday’s victory in Dryden.
Malpass missed the first four games of the regular season with a lower-body injury that he suffered in the pre-season.
“First game was rusty for him, a feeling-out game and getting his feet under him,” Strachan said of the Sault Ste. Marie native, who had one previous stint with the Lakers back in the 2016-17 campaign.
“The second game he was more like himself, using his speed, creating things all over the ice and [was] his feisty self.”
The Lakers are hoping to have forwards Nick Hahkala and Reece Hopfner return this week at some point after dealing with foot injuries.
Forward Cooper Witherspoon and defenceman Jarrett Blaase were both lost to upper-body injuries on Friday, with Strachan noting the team will know more on their status this week.