Lakers hold onto lead atop SIJHL

Lucas Punkari

The Fort Frances Lakers still hold the upper hand in the battle for top spot in the SIJHL standings.
Heading into last night’s game versus Wisconsin at the Ice For Kids Arena here, the Lakers (14-3-2) held a four-point lead over the second-place Wilderness (13-3-0).
The two squads went head-to-head Saturday night in Spooner, where the Wilderness kept their perfect home-ice record intact with a convincing 5-1 victory.
“I was very excited to see what we could do against Wisconsin, but unfortunately our team just didn’t have that same excitement,” sighed Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“Not enough of our guys showed [up], played, or proved that we deserved to be where we are in the upper tier of the league while Wisconsin, on the other hand, was pumped to show that they belong there.
“They outplayed, out-skated, and out-hit us, and when those three things happen, it’s hard for a team to compete against,” he noted.
“They are a good team, and they deserved the win.”
Anthony Calabrese led the defending SIJHL champs with pair of goals and an assist while Byron Katapaytuk netted the Lakers’ lone goal.
The Lakers bounced back Sunday night in Duluth, however, as a third-period goal by Colton Spicer and a hat trick from Jordan Larson propelled the visitors to a 4-3 win over the Clydesdales—despite being outshot 44-26.
“I will take the two points in that one,” Strachan said. “Our defensive game and our lack of worth ethic in our defensive game really hurt us again, and some players just don’t get the message.
“We talk about our systems, our one-on-one play, demonstrate checking assignments and how to play the man, but it just doesn’t sink in for some of the players,” he remarked.
“If it wasn’t for Larson’s three individual efforts for his hat trick to set up Spicer’s game-winner, the play of [goalie Tanner] Hamilton, and a few workhorses at the end of the game, we would have come out on the short end of that game, as well.”
Larson collected his hat trick in a rather unique way, scoring his three goals in three different ways (even strength, power play, and shorthanded).
“It’s not very often that you see a player do that but when you are working hard, good things can happen,” Strachan reasoned.
“All three of his goals were pretty nice goals, and that helped us out going into the third period of play.”
At the other end of rink, Hamilton turned in arguably his best performance of the season so far. The back-up to Tyler Ampe stopped 41 shots that came his way to help his team get the win.
“I thought on their first goal it was a bad decision on a clearing play, a poor play along the boards, and then a weak shot that beat Tanner,” Strachan recalled.
“But after that, he seemed to settle down and make the necessary saves that he needed to make to help his team.
“It was a very strong performance for him, and it should hopefully give him some confidence as we have been riding [starting goalie] Tyler [Ampe] pretty hard early in the season,” he added.
Sunday’s win over the Clydesdales wrapped up a three-game excursion south of the border for the Lakers, which began last Tuesday night in Chisholm with the Lakers demolishing the expansion Iron Range Ironheads 10-2.
The double-digit outburst was the most by a local team in the SIJHL since 2008, when the former Jr. Sabres blanked the Sioux Lookout Flyers 11-0.
“We wanted to be focused, intense, and also play as a team, and for the for the most part we did a solid job of all three of those things,” Strachan remarked.
“We jumped on them early on with Byron’s [Katapaytuk] line setting the tone on the very first shift by pressuring hard and cycling the puck down low, and the rest of the team just followed suit.”
Katapaytuk and Larson were the offensive catalysts for the Lakers in that one, with both players notching hat tricks.
Katapaytuk also added an assist.
“Byron often dominated shifts with his power, and Jordan used his finesse and his skill to outwit their defensive game,” Strachan said.
“Both of them were very good in leading the way and they both had many chances to bury more opportunities than six that they did.”
In addition to a pair of hat tricks on the road trip, Larson also had a successful week in the accolades department.
He was named the SIJHL’s player-of-the-month for October, and also was selected to be a member of Team West in the CJHL prospects games this coming weekend in Langley, B.C.
“When you have success, opportunities like this happen, and to be invited to take part in an event like that is definitely a huge honour for Jordan,” Strachan said of his rookie forward, who currently leads the SIJHL in scoring with 37 points in 19 games.
“It’s a great chance for him to play against and with a high level of competition with some of top players aged 16-18, and it’s also a big opportunity for him to show NHL and college scouts what he can offer,” Strachan added.
Following last night’s game here against the Wilderness, the Lakers will be back on the road again tomorrow night in Chisholm against the Ironheads before returning to the Ice For Kids Arena next Tuesday (Nov. 15) for a 7:30 p.m. clash with the Clydesdales.
“Despite the scores, Iron Range has played us tough in the three games that we have had against them, as they work hard and they never give up,” Strachan noted.
“We need to go into that like we always do, and that is by working hard and sticking to our game plan.
“Duluth is improving, as well, as they can skate and they have some skill.
“So we will need to outplay them for all 60 minutes and not go through the motions,” he stressed.