Lakers hold off Wilderness to regain series lead

Lucas Punkari

In front of a franchise-record crowd of 644 fans at the Ice for Kids Arena, the Fort Frances Lakers withstood a late barrage from the Wisconsin Wilderness to take a 7-5 win in Game 3 of the SIJHL finals.
With the win, the black-and-red have taken a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series for the Bill Salonen Cup heading into tonight’s fourth game here at the Ice for Kids Arena at 7:30 p.m.
Early in the third period, it looked as if the Lakers had the game well under control with a four-goal cushion, but the Wilderness roared back to life in the final minutes before Byron Katapaytuk scored an empty-net goal with ten seconds left to go in regulation.
“In the first two periods I thought we played really good hockey for the better part of 15 minutes or so,” Lakers head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said.
“The third was a great opportunity to wear Wisconsin down heading into Game 4, but twice after we scored they came right back and scored themselves, and you just can’t let that happen.
“I don’t know if we thought the game was over when it was 6-3, but they had a solid effort to storm back and we were able to rise to the occasion in the final three minutes to solidify the victory,” he added.
Even though his team made things interesting late, Wilderness head coach and general manager Rod Aldoff was not pleased with how his side preformed during the game as a whole.
“We got what we deserved tonight and I told the guys after the game that it’s going to take a lot more than that to win a championship,” Aldoff stressed.
“There’s no magic wand to winning. It comes to down to hard work and some guys on our team don’t want to do that right now.
“But at the end of the day, Fort Frances was the better team tonight and they deserved the win,” he added.
Jaret Leclair and Jordan Christianson opened up the scoring for the Lakers just past the midway point of the opening period, bringing an end to

the night for Wilderness starting goaltender Tanner Milliron as he was pulled in favour of Gordy Defiel.
Andrew Anderson would get the visitors on the board late in the first, but Adam Wensley and Katapaytuk both found the back of the net in the second stanza to give their team a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Wensley would then score arguably the goal of the night early in the third period during a penalty-kill, as he recovered from a fall on the ice to steal the puck away from Wilderness defender Patrick Hurley and tuck the puck by an out-of-position Defiel on a diving wrap-around attempt.
“Byron got the puck down deep there and the goalie came out to play it,” Wensley recalled.
“I just pounced on the opportunity to make the turnover there, and I was able to get it in on a wide-open net,” he added.
Following a goal by Shane Topf just 20 seconds after Wensley’s highlight-reel marker, Jordan Larson’s shot from the slot floated over Defiel and into the back of the net, which regained the Lakers’ four goal lead.
But that was when the Wilderness would roar to life, as Hurley lit the lamp just 11 seconds after Larson’s goal, and teammates Jeremy Johnson would both score late in the period to cut the lead down to one.
With a minute-and-a-half remaining, Wisconsin would pull Defiel to utilize an extra attacker, but were unable to get any quality chances before Katapaytuk put the game out of reach with his empty net goal.
Following tonight’s contest, both teams will travel back to Spooner, Wisc. for Game 5 of the series on Saturday in a 7 p.m. tilt at the Northwest Sports Complex.
If necessary, Game 6 will be held at the Ice for Kids Arena on Monday night at 7:30 p.m., with a seventh and deciding game, if needed, set for Wednesday night in Spooner at 7 p.m.
At stake is the chance to represent the SIJHL at this year’s Dudley Hewitt Cup, which will be held April 17-21 at the Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay.