Lakers open with split against Norskies

Jamie Mountain

The Fort Frances Lakers certainly had their chances but it ended up meaning very little in the end.
A slow start and some costly penalties came back to bite the Lakers in a big way as they dropped a 6-3 decision to the visiting Thief River Falls Norskies on Saturday night at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The Lakers (13-16-2) opened the second half of the SIJHL season with a split in their home-and-home series against the Norskies after taking the opener by a slim 4-3 margin last Thursday night in Thief River Falls.
“We feel we let two points slip away,” Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said of Saturday night’s loss on home ice.
“We came out of the gates slow spotting them a lead. We had our chances throughout the last two periods but didn’t solve their goalie enough.
“We discussed three areas that hurt us after the game,” he noted. “Our start, we continue to take penalties at bad times and sloppy turnovers cost us in the end.”
Defenceman Connor Kalthoff scored twice to pace the fourth-place Norskies (16-11-2) to the road win on Saturday night.
The visitors came out quickly and skated out to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes on tallies from Nick Harder and Kalthoff.
Fort Frances cut into the deficit with the only offensive effort in the second frame when Flynn Perry converted on the power play at 11:05 to trim it to 2-1.
In the third, the Norskies saw Mason McIntosh knock in his 13th from the left side of the net early in the frame to make it a two-goal cushion.
On a power play after that, Kalthoff ripped one in from the high slot at 7:07, which proved to be the eventual game-winner.
Battling back, however, the Lakers saw Kiernan Bailey convert on a man advantage of their own with six minutes left in regulation.
Matthieu Harrold’s long-range attempt through a screen fooled Norskies’ goalie Seth Purcilly at 16:23 to trim it to 4-3.
Fort Frances then pulled goalie Dean Bucholz twice for an extra attacker, but Thief River Falls sealed the road decision with empty net efforts from Jack Michels and Josh Olson, with his first SIJHL goal, to round out the scoring.
Purcilly made 37 saves to earn the win while Bucholz turned aside 30 shots in taking the loss.
“I felt we played a solid 40 minutes to end the game, had the possession edge and out-chanced them,” Strachan said.
“We need to bring that intensity for 60 minutes [on] Friday versus Dryden.”
On Thursday night, Stone Stelzl registered a three-point game to help the Lakers edge the Norskies in the opener at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The Lakers opened the scoring just a couple of minutes into the game as local forward Ethan Carlson-Jourdain stuffed in his fifth goal of the season from the left side of the crease past Norskies’ goalie Joshua Seeley.
Thief River Falls countered with the equalizer at 15:14 of the frame when Tyler Johnson redirected an Olson point blast.
A frenzied second period saw the two clubs combine for five markers, including the first three from the Lakers.
After Tyler Malpass put the guests back on top at 2:07, Stelzl provided his first tally of the night.
Then with Fort Frances on the power play midway through the period, Stelzl sniped one from the right side as his low shot found its way into the bottom left corner to put his side up by three.
“Typical first game back, I thought we carried the play early,” Strachan remarked.
“[It] was a little sloppy at times, but we attacked their net and capitalized on our chances.”
Answering back, however, the Norskies collected a pair of man advantage efforts in rapid succession to climb back into it.
Joe Collins’ eighth of the campaign came at 14:56 before Tyler Johnson went high on Buchholz from the left faceoff circle a minute-and-a-half later to make it 4-3 after two periods of play.
However, the visitors tightened up defensively in the third to secure the narrow road victory.
Kyle Uzelman chipped in with two assists to help pace the Lakers’ offence.
Buchholz made 28 saves to earn the win while Seeley turned aside 21 of 25 shots to suffer the loss.
“Our emotions got the best of us through the middle part of the second [period] but we regrouped and finished off well,” Strachan lauded.
The fifth-place Lakers next are in action this Friday (Jan. 10) when they host the third-place Dryden GM Ice Dogs (17-11-2) at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The CJHL’s annual trade deadline also is on Friday, with Strachan noting that the Lakers will be looking to upgrade their roster as best they can as they head down the stretch of the season to the SIJHL playoffs and Dudley-Hewitt Cup.
“We will [be] trying to add for sure, we have three cards and feel we need to fill them to improve in certain areas,” Strachan said.
“Our biggest goal will be to win the SIJHL Championship and head into the Dudley-Hewitt Cup strong and feeling good about our game.
“We have a goal for our power play to be 22 per cent or better and our penalty kill to be 85 per cent or better,” he added.
“As a team, we need more consistency in our game, improve our puck management in our own end and around the blue lines and attack our opponents net area more each game.”
On the injury front, local forward Cooper Witherspoon is currently out with a knee injury with Strachan noting the coaching staff was hopeful to get a clear timeline this week.