Lakers nip Wilderness in shootout

Lucas Punkari

After being benched for Sunday’s game in his hometown of Duluth, Fort Frances Lakers’ forward Dan Smith wanted to make a statement in his return to the lineup last night at the Ice For Kids Arena.
He certainly did just that—netting a pair of third-period goals, including the game-tying one with less than a minute left in regulation time, and then scoring the lone goal of the shootout to give the Lakers a 6-5 victory over the SIJHL-leading Wisconsin Wilderness.
“Last weekend was a little rough, and coach [Wayne Strachan] sent me a message and he knew that it would upset me,” Smith noted after the game.
“It was definitely a wake-up call and it was good for me,” he added. “Looking back on it now, I’m really glad that he did that because people need those wake-up calls sometimes and I had one.”
“I thought he responded well,” said Strachan.
“He’s a guy that we brought in to be a significant part of our forward situation and tonight he was a guy we were able to count on when the game was on the line.”
Smith paced the Lakers with a pair of goals and an assist while Byron Katapaytuk and Jace Baldwin both had a goal and a pair of helpers each in the victory, which was the team’s second in a row.
“It’s good for our confidence, for sure,” noted Strachan, who had watched his team drop two-straight to the Wilderness down in Spooner last weekend.
“Any time you can pull one out like that against the top team in the league, you have to feel pretty good about yourself, and it’s a good two-point pick-up for us,” he added.
Derek Tylka scored twice for the Wilderness, which saw their three-game winning streak end, while defenceman Steve Hughes and speedy winger Andrew Anderson both added a pair of assists.
“We lacked intensity at times, but at other times we played really hard and made some good plays out there,” noted Wilderness coach Rod Aldoff.
“But when you’re in a situation like we were at the end of the game there, you need to know how to finish them off,” he stressed.
After Baldwin opened the scoring just 10 seconds into the game, the Wilderness stormed back with goals from Tylka and Nick Szopinski to take a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
The Lakers reclaimed the lead early in the second period when Jon Sinclair and Katapaytuk lit the lamp in an eight-second span.
But Austin Adduono replied for the Wilderness a few minutes later to knot the game at 3-3 heading into the final frame.
Smith put the Lakers back out in front with a shot that beat Wilderness goalie John McLean to the blocker side at the 3:16 mark of the third, but that lead was short-lived as Tylka notched his second of the night just over a minute later.
The Wilderness then grabbed the lead with under six minutes to go when Keith Tessin redirected a point shot by Nathan Paulsen past Lakers’ goalie Tyler Ampe, which set the stage for Smith’s game-tying marker with 31.2 seconds on the clock.
“Byron [Katapaytuk] had the puck going into the corner and I yelled, ‘Cycle,” Smith recalled.
“He cycled it right back to me and I took it to the net.
“Luckily some of my teammates got in front for a screen and the puck just found it’s way into the back of the net,” he noted.
After overtime solved nothing, both teams prepared for the shootout, where Smith netted the only goal.
Afterwards, Smith said the key to his goal came from some knowledge he gained from playing with McLean for the Wilderness franchise last season, when they were in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League as the Wisconsin Mustangs.
“I know his weaknesses here and there,” Smith said. “And when he moves laterally, his five-hole opens up a lot, and that’s exactly what he did there.”
With the win, the Lakers (30-15-3) sit six points back of Wisconsin for top spot, although the Wilderness do have five games in hand.
The Lakers return to action Tuesday (Feb. 8) when they host the Dryden Ice Dogs at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The teams then will square off in Dryden the following night.