Lakers grab control of semi-final

Joey Payeur

There’s Miles between the English River Miners and any shot at getting back in their SIJHL semi-final series.
The Fort Frances Lakers are in the driver’s seat after taking care of business at the Ice For Kids Arena with a 4-1 win in Game 1 on Friday night, followed by a 4-3 decision Saturday in Game 2.
A big reason for the Lakers’ success so far is Miles Nolan, who scored three goals in the two games to be named Pizza Hut player-of-the-week yesterday.
“Miles has been our best player in the playoffs so far and is being rewarded because of his hard work,” Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said about the 19-year-old from Geraldton.
“When we can have a total team effort, and get points from all four lines and three defensive pairings, it is only going to help our success or keep us in hockey games,” he noted.
After a scoreless opening period Friday night, Nolan got things rolling with the man advantage at 9:07 of the second by taking a Riley Daly pass down low and putting a shot on goal that Miners’ netminder Greg Harney got a piece of.
But the puck bounced high before seeming to glance off Harney’s back and dribble into the net.
Cody Wickstrom made it 2-0 at 12:19 with a missile of a shot that beat Harney high to the glove side.
In the third, the intensity and the chippy play picked up, with the two teams trading physical and verbal shots of a less-than-friendly nature.
After one such incident landed English River’s Royce King in the penalty box for cross-checking, Nolan notched his second at 1:45 with a close-in shot that found its way through an array of bodies and trickled over the goal line.
Bryson Jasper made it 4-0 at 8:21 when he drove the net after Ryan McQueen escaped the sin bin and picked up the puck on the fly—ripping a shot off the left-wing that deflected off Jasper and past Harney.
Taylor Bargar gave the Miners one highlight for the evening when his power-play blast at 13:05 beat Devin Tappenden, ending his shutout string at 116 minutes, 26 seconds.
Tappenden finished with 23 stops while Harney made 30 saves in getting tagged with the loss.
Game 2 saw the Lakers finish with a big edge in shots on goal (48-29) but it proved to be a much closer affair on the scoreboard.
Devan Vander Wyk opened the scoring at 4:02 of the first to give English River its first lead of the series.
After Nolan tied it at 13:09, Lyndon Lipinski broke free for a short-handed breakaway at 15:35 to put the Lakers up 2-1 over the Miners, who went with P.D. Melgoza between the pipes.
After halting the Lakers’ amazing run of 49-consecutive penalty kills over 13 games in Game 1, the Miners made it two power-play goals in two-straight chances when Chris Hrabec fired home the equalizer at 16:52 with Patrick Sofer serving a double minor for spearing.
“On both [power-play] goals, it was our fault,” admitted Strachan.
“In Game 1, a bad clearing attempt allowed them a second opportunity and led to that goal,” he recalled.
“In Game 2, our forward did not pick up his coverage.
“I don’t feel we have to change anything,” Strachan stressed. “We just need to outwork the Miners, pay the price, and take care of our assignments.”
In the second period, English River took the lead again when Dominic Blouin beat Tappenden at 1:14.
But back came the host squad, with Kyle Lipinski getting the Lakers’ only goal in seven power-play attempts during the evening on a one-timer off a set-up from Tanner Fricke at 10:50.
With the game up for grabs in the third, Cam Jackson blasted a shot from the left point that hit a Miners’ defender in front and squeaked past Melgoza at 5:36 for the game-winner.
Tappenden chalked up 21 saves while Melgoza was valiant in defeat with 44 stops.
“I thought as a team we played better in Game 1,” noted Strachan.
“But I felt in Game 2, once the second period came, we pushed the pace harder and created better scoring chances,” he added.
“Melgoza was solid in their net.”
The Miners will try to climb back into the series at home, with Game 3 slated for tomorrow night in Ear Falls.
Game 4 goes there Friday.
Game 5, if necessary, will be played Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at the ’52 Canadians Arena (due to the ice show earlier in the day at the Ice For Kids Arena).
Game 6 would be back in Ear Falls next Tuesday (April 8).
If the series goes the distance, Game 7 is scheduled for next Wednesday (April 9) at 7:30 p.m. at the IFK Arena.
The other SIJHL semi-final series between the Minnesota Iron Rangers and Thunder Bay North Stars was knotted at a game apiece heading into Game 3 last night in Hoyt Lakes (the score was unavailable at press time).
Thunder Bay won Game 1 by a 2-0 count in Thunder Bay, with Eric Mann getting the shutout in goal.
But the Iron Rangers wrestled home-ice advantage away from the Stars with a 4-2 win in Game 2 on Saturday.