A sweep of their three-game homestand and the Fort Frances Lakers could be back to .500.
A lofty goal to be sure with the two best teams coming to town, but the Lakers were riding high going into last night’s tilt with the Dryden Ice Dogs after a 1-0 win over the host Sioux Lookout Flyers on Sunday night.
The victory snapped a five-game winless drought as the Lakers ran their record to 2-5-1.
Emo native Jameson Shortreed was the difference in the game, stopping all 36 shots he faced for the first shutout of his Junior ‘A’ career.
Newcomer Jordan Carne scored his second goal in a Lakers’ uniform since being acquired from the Fort William North Stars late last month.
The Lakers will host those league-leading North Stars (7-1) this Friday and Saturday night at the Ice For Kids Arena.
“A huge week ahead of us,” Lakers’ head coach Wayne Strachan admitted. “We will have to be at our best, especially defensively, and for 120 minutes [against the North Stars] this weekend.
“If we play with poise and patience and not get running around, we will give ourselves the opportunity to be in the games,” Strachan added.
“We need to bring our big boy attitudes and do things crisp, and be accountable in what we do on the ice.
“This week will be a huge growing experience for our young core and we will prepare to show the league who we really are,” Strachan vowed.
A late-game collapse Friday night cost the Lakers a win on home ice. The Lakers had jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and led 5-4 going into the final period, but Sioux Lookout stormed back with three unanswered goals to steal a 7-5 road win.
Five different Lakers netted goals in that one, with Ben Hilborn, Jake Ransom, Byron Katapaytuk, Tyler Stevenson and Colton Kennedy all getting on the scoresheet.
Alex Riveness had a hat trick for the visitors, with Brad Bienvenue, Adam Wensley, Nathan Brown, and Colten Brule adding singles.
Jordan Giguere replaced David Novak between the pipes after the Lakers’ third goal, and stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced for the win.
Zac McMichael, meanwhile, gave up six goals on 35 shots to shoulder the loss.
“We came out hard and jumped on them to an early lead, [but] then we quit doing what we were successful at,” Strachan lamented.
“We had success because of our forecheck, and we were making simple plays to get pucks out of our zone.
“Then we took a couple penalties, a bad goal, and they got momentum,” he noted.
“[In the second], we came out the way we started the first and jumped up on them again 5-3, but we got sloppy as the period went on, not getting the puck out of our own end, missing coverage in our own zone,” Strachan continued.
“I hate to blame goals on the goalie, but until this point they had not scored a good goal,” he said.
“[In the third], their goalie made some good saves and again we had two breakdowns,” Strachan remarked. “One on the ‘PK’ and one when one of our defenceman made a soft pass behind our net.
“Five of their six goals were weak and they [added] an empty-netter,” he recalled. “It was our game for the taking [but] we got soft and didn’t get the saves we needed to propel us to the victory.”
Strachan said the difference between Friday night’s loss here and the win Sunday in Sioux Lookout was team defence, a relentless forecheck, and key saves at the right times.
“We came out and played hard, put lots of pressure on them in their own end, and had a lot of scoring opportunities,” he noted.
“Hard work and strong forechecking paid off for the [Colton] Kennedy line as they caused a turnover and went to the net hard to create Carne’s goal.”
The Lakers hemmed the Flyers in their own end to begin the second, but couldn’t add to their lead.
The Flyers pushed back and created chances of their own, but Shortreed stood tall in goal.
Things opened up again in the third, but the Lakers defence-first mentality kept the Flyers off the scoreboard.
“Seemed as if we were focused more [Sunday],” Strachan said. “We needed to get some confidence going in the right direction.
“We played our first 60-minute hockey game, for the most part, and our goaltending was strong.
“Very happy to see this effort,” Strachan insisted. “The energy for our third game in five nights, our pressure and forechecking was good causing turnovers, and we played as a team.
“I have harped about so many different aspects of our game . . . defence, getting pucks out of our own end, getting the puck deep and forechecking hard, going to the net and causing havoc around their goal,” Strachan admitted.
“It all came together [Sunday] in a solid effort.
“We need to grow from this as a team and keep moving in the right direction,” he stressed.
The Lakers also benefitted from the play of affiliated players Mike Jourdain and Donovan Cousineau over the home-and-home series with Sioux Lookout.
“Mike is a big strong force and should be a regular in our lineup,” Strachan said. “He played well with many big hits and a few chances to score.
“Donovan is only 15 years old and can be used in five games before Dec. 1 as per high school rules,” Strachan added.
“It took him a few shifts to adjust to the game, but he realized he could play and settled in nicely, making many nice plays and [had] a point-blank chance to score late in the third [Sunday].”