Lakers hope to use loss to learn lesson

Dan Falloon

By most accounts, the Fort Frances Lakers played a pretty decent hockey game for the better part of two periods at the Ice For Kids Arena on Friday night.
The Lakers took leads of 1-0 and 2-1 on the perennial powerhouse Fort William North Stars, but let the latter advantage slip away late in the game as the visitors tallied with 6:01 to go and rallied from there.
“For the most part, I thought we controlled the hockey game,” said Lakers’ head coach Wayne Strachan.
“I thought we had our opportunities on the power play, and with three breakaways in the third period, to give ourselves the opportunity to give us the lead and some more insurance.
“That’s the way it goes,” he reasoned.
A major turning point in the game was the Lakers’ inability to get up by more than a goal despite having several chances to do so.
The biggest example came just after the midway point of the second period when the Lakers led 2-1 and were handed a seven-minute power play.
After jawing with Lakers’ forward Jace Baldwin, Fort William defenceman Taylor Desserre jumped Baldwin from behind—earning a fighting major as well as instigator and aggressor minors.
Baldwin was slapped with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his role in the skirmish and after it had expired, the home side had seven minutes of uninterrupted man-advantage.
It should have been a boon—given both Lakers’ goals had come on the power play—but Fort Frances often was sloppy and unable to generate much pressure.
“We didn’t work as hard as we did on our other power plays, thus no result,” Strachan sighed.
“Before we even had it, before the four-on-four, we talked about once the power play came, we had to keep our focus and our intensity up,” he recalled.
“We moved the puck, our bodies were moving, we found the open holes, and we got the puck to the net.
“Guys were paying the price to go to the net,” he remarked.
Strachan stressed the need for a killer instinct as a goal or two on that power play would have gone a long way to helping to start to throw some dirt on the North Stars’ chances.
“In that seven-minute power play, we stood still, we didn’t move the puck, we didn’t get the puck to the net, and no one was there,” he lamented.
“We threw out a third unit to give the other guys a rest, but we didn’t really seem to muster anything.
“Was that a big factor that may have hurt us?” Strachan asked. “Yes, it was.
“But you have to live and learn from your mistakes, and we need to learn that when we have that chance to bury a team, we’ve got to be hungry and have a little sense of urgency and get the job done.”
Lakers’ captain Tyler Stevenson, who had opened the scoring with a power-play goal, made similar observations, feeling the Lakers got a little bit cocky and figured a goal was nearly a foregone conclusion given how the unit had been playing.
“We just got complacent,” he admitted. “That’s a long time to be on it, and that’s where we should have taken over the game.
“We stopped working hard and thought it was going to be easy,” Stevenson said.
The 20-year-old also said the nature of the penalty itself, a mauling of his linemate, should have provided all of the needed fire for success.
“We should have made use of it, made them pay for something like that,” Stevenson argued.
“‘Baldy’ got under his skin, and if you’re going to be taking us down like that, we should be making them pay on the scoreboard.”
The score remained 2-1 after the North Stars failed to convert on a five-on-three advantage in the middle of the third period.
Fort Frances even had glorious opportunities to score short-handed. Henry Gutierrez took a feed fresh out of the box, but couldn’t beat Fort William goalie Jay Pelletier.
Moments later, Jon Sinclair was afforded a similar one-on-one opportunity but he, too, could not hit the twine.
Those missed opportunities loomed large in the face of a trio of Laker defensive breakdowns late in the game.
With 6:01 to go, Corey Hamel intercepted a Lakers’ clearing pass and charged up the middle. Although his shot was stopped by Lakers’ goalie Tyler Ampe, Spencer Hogan’s rebound was not.
Hogan struck again 2:47 later to give Fort William the lead—picking off another clearing pass and then depositing a slapper over Ampe’s right shoulder.
With the Lakers reeling a little bit, Dan Usiski punched in some insurance, taking a feed from Mitch Galbraith as he split the Lakers’ defence, careful to stay onside at the blueline.
Usiski shot glove side on Ampe, who got a piece of the puck but couldn’t quite recover before it skittered over the line at 17:53.
Strachan was shocked at the Lakers’ defensive meltdown, noting all three late goals came off mistakes the team takes care to prevent.
What he found particularly disappointing is that his crew was playing smart right up until the time of the tying goal.
“We worked hard for the first 15 minutes of the third period and did all the little things right,” he lauded.
“We played smart, killed a five-on-three penalty, and then it was just brain farts.
“There was a turnover up the middle and no third man coming back ties the game,” Strachan recalled.
“A turnover in our end through the middle and the winger on the wall doesn’t pay the price to get the puck out—winning goal.
“Not a smart pinch, didn’t take the man on the pinch,” Strachan continued. “A guy gets free on a breakaway—fourth goal.”
Strachan took time to point out how well the back end had played, for the most point, up until Friday’s game. But he chalked up the breakdown to a series of unfortunate events by a young team and not to any deep-rooted issue.
“It was definitely uncharacteristic for the way we’ve been playing,” he said. “Defensively, for the most part, we’ve been very good.
“It’s just things we continue to go over and over in practice, and next time, we’ll have to be ready,” he vowed.
Stevenson had opened the scoring on the power play, firing home a Phil Jennrich rebound just 5:35 into the game for his 11th of the year—seven of which have come with the man advantage.
Fort William got on the board with 1:12 left in the period when Matt Valley joined the rush and knocked a Riley Marsh rebound past Ampe.
Fort Frances took its second lead of the game when Byron Katapaytuk found a drop pass from Ryan Wildman in tight to the net and beat an out-of-position Pelletier at 2:55 of the second.
The goal was Katapaytuk’s sixth of the campaign.
In all, Ampe made 22 saves while Pelletier turned aside 31 shots.
The Lakers had opened the week with a 7-1 thrashing of Duluth here last Tuesday night (Oct. 5).
Although Stevenson hit the scoresheet twice in that one, the rest of the goals came from an unheralded section of the Lakers’ bench.
Cody Hasbargen, Jon Sinclair, and Jordan Sinclair all notched their first of the year while Jaret Leclair and Ryan Wildman each picked up their second.
“We have lots of guys in the room that can contribute,” Strachan noted. “We’ve relied on the Boaz line and the Katapaytuk line, and we know that they’re going to rise up and be our leaders.
“Jonny Sinclair has been getting some power-play time, and there are other guys in the room that can produce.
“When you have four lines of depth that I feel we do have, and guys that are working hard, they’re going to get breaks,” Strachan continued.
“From their work ethic, they’re going to get chances to contribute and it’s good to see.”
After opening the season with seven of their first nine games at home, the Lakers now will play five-straight away from the friendly confines of the Ice For Kids Arena.
The road trip begins tonight (Oct. 13) in Dryden.
Strachan didn’t pin Friday’s loss on Ampe, lauding him for his composure in the crease, but said Jameson Shortreed was scheduled to start tonight against the Ice Dogs and that playing time in goal certainly is up for grabs.
“Jameson, obviously, we’ve got to get him back between the pipes,” he noted.
“If he gets on a roll, we’ll probably run him.”
The Lakers are 0-2 on the road so far this season after starting off 5-2 here at home.
Strachan said that aside from Dryden’s slightly smaller ice surface, the Lakers don’t need to plan much differently for the couple of weeks ahead.
“I don’t think we have to change much of our game. The game plan’s going to stay the same,” he stressed.
“We just have to get more of a road warrior mentality, and when we do go on the road, have the work ethic that we have at home.
“It is a different setting,” he acknowledged. “We’re going to have some nights in a hotel, but the focus and the intensity and the work ethic are the same.
“For the most part, we haven’t had it on the road—not necessarily the intensity, but just playing smart,” Strachan noted.