Lakers on cusp of sweep


A returning point-producing machine joined a red-hot goalie, an unsung forward trio, and an overtime hero in moving the Fort Frances Lakers to the cusp of the next round of the SIJHL playoffs.
The Lakers made themselves right at home in the Ralph Engelstad Arena the past two nights–earning a 4-1 victory on Tuesday and then a 5-4 win in overtime last night to grab a commanding 2-0 lead over the Thief River Falls Norskies in their first-round, best-of-five “Survivor Series.”
That gives the three-time defending SIJHL champs the chance to wrap up the series on home ice with a win in either Game 3 tomorrow night or Game 4, if necessary, on Saturday.
Jared Virtanen, who led the Lakers this season with 74 points, returned to action for the first time in almost a month after injuring his shoulder against the Norskies back on Feb. 24 after being tripped by goalie Ryan Buttazzoni.
He repaid Buttazzoni in full by notching a hat trick in Tuesday night’s opener.
After Dylan Kooner gave the Lakers a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal in the first period, Virtanen made it 2-0 in the second.
Then he added a pair of third-period goals, including an empty-netter with five seconds to go, on a night the Lakers were outshot by a whopping 53-24 margin.
Brandon Bodnar earned the win by making a season-high 52 saves.
Jack Dunnell had the lone goal for the Norskies.
Game 2 last night saw Bodnar standing on his head again–compiling 51 saves as the Lakers were outshot 55-38.
Bodnar’s teammates kept giving him–and then giving up–the lead, jumping in front three times before allowing the Norskies to pull even.
The last of those efforts came in a wild final minute of regulation time, when Jaden Gustafson netted the go-ahead goal with 38 seconds to play–only to watch Keaton Huot tie things up with just 15 seconds left.
But Matt Tustin stepped up in the overtime to net the unassisted winner at 14:23 against Buttazzoni.
Ian Tookenay, one of two affiliate players from the Kenora Thistles Midget ‘AAA’ team in the lineup last night because of all the injured Lakers’ forwards, had the only goal of the first period.
Then Gustafson, Ian Jarvis, and Brett Pickler–a trio not renowned for their scoring prowess this season–changed the complexion of the game.
Jarvis made it 2-0 early in the second before Tommy Stang and Michael Johnson brought the Norskies all square.
He then got his second later in the period, only to have Alec Daman reply just 1:15 later.
Still not in the lineup for the Lakers were forwards Austin Petrie and Dawson Waddell, as well as Game 1 casualties Jack Bernie and Julian Uhryniuk.