With just 75 spectators looking on and only one penalty called in the game, one could forgive the Fort Frances Lakers and host Duluth Clydesdales if they believed they were in the middle of some meaningless pre-season scrimmage on Sunday.
With the only atmosphere coming from the odd patron munching their popcorn, the Lakers and Clydesdales had to generate their own energy on the ice.
It was Fort Frances that was first to flip the switch on the breaker box and skate out of Duluth with a 4-2 win in SIJHL action.
The victory meant the Lakers (29-15-3) salvaged one win out of a three-games-in-three-nights road trip while the Clydesdales (10-34-2) dropped their fifth-straight game.
A fast start was essential to Fort Frances getting out of its doldrums and Ryan Wildman filled that prerequisite by drilling his eighth goal of the season with only 23 seconds gone in the game.
Then at 5:49, Blake Boaz added to the lead with his ninth of the season before Matthew Caulfield added to Duluth’s misery with his seventh at 9:04 for a 3-0 Lakers’ lead in a period Fort Frances controlled from start to finish with a 16-8 shots advantage.
The Clydesdales, who sit last in the SIJHL, gave their smattering of fans a reason to celebrate with a power-play goal at 1:04 of the second.
The man-advantage situation, with the Lakers’ Morgan McNeill in the box for tripping, was the only one all night for either team in what was a tame affair.
Tyler Stevenson continued his hunt for the league scoring title with his SIJHL-topping 32nd goal of the season at 12:47 for a 4-1 Lakers’ advantage.
Stevenson sits fourth on the circuit with 53 points—three behind leader Keith Tessin of the Wisconsin Wilderness and only one behind two other Wisconsin snipers, Austin Adduono and Tom Paine.
Duluth inched closer when Matt Jerulle found the back of the net at 18:42 but the Lakers protected their lead efficiently through a scoreless third period to seal the win.
Jameson Shortreed, starting on back-to-back nights, made 28 stops to improve his record to 10-5-2.
Shortreed also lowered his goals against average to 2.84 while upping his save percentage to .903.
Cody Stocker fell to 4-11-0-1 despite blocking 33 shots for the Clydesdales.
Lost in the
The Lakers were thankful for the winning end to a weekend which saw them not be up to the challenge in two-straight outings against league-leading Wisconsin (32-6-4) in Spooner to fall seven points back of the Wilderness for first place—and with Wisconsin holding five games in hand to boot.
On Saturday, Byron Katapaytuk’s 19th of the year at 56 seconds of the first period, followed by Phil Jennrich’s sixth during a Lakers’ power play at 11:44, gave Fort Frances a solid 2-0 lead.
That virtually was the end of the highlight package in terms of Lakers’ footage, however, as Wisconsin scored five of the final six goals to triumph 5-3.
Bryce Anderson scored on a man advantage at 16:24, then set up Tessin’s power-play goal at 8:37 of the second to even the score.
The Wilderness rode the comeback wave all the way to the lead as Austin Anderson slipped the puck past Shortreed at 17:09.
Matthew Mulqueen made things go from bad to worse for the Lakers by scoring 1:16 into the third for a 4-2 lead.
Boaz had Fort Frances thinking of a comeback of its own when he tallied at 11:09, but Austin Anderson made any suspense evaporate with his second of the night into an empty net at 19:29.
The win bolstered Wisconsin’s phenomenal home record this season to 19-1-1.
Shortreed stopped 20 pucks in his outing while Wilderness back-up goalie Jake Hebda made 29 saves to improve to 12-2-0-1 with a league-low 2.14 GAA to his credit, as well as a No. 2-ranked save percentage of .926.
That’s only slightly behind regular starter John McLean (.928), who stymied the Lakers on Friday night in a 6-2 Wisconsin win to hit the 20-win plateau (20-4-1-2) and sit just in back of Hebda with a 2.15 GAA.
James Kline gave Wilderness the lead at 10:18 of the first, but Stevenson tied it with the man advantage at 19:19.
Then with 4:23 gone in the second, Wilson Housley was awarded a penalty shot after a tripping penalty during a breakaway by the Lakers’ Connor Hady.
Housley, who was stopped by Lakers’ starter Tyler Ampe to clinch a shootout win for Fort Frances in their last meeting on Jan. 23, made his chance count with a shot that fooled Ampe for a 2-1 lead.
Adduono then lit the lamp for the first of his two goals on the night at 17:11 to stretch the lead to two entering the third.
Jace Baldwin put the jump back in the legs of Fort Frances with his 18th goal of the season, coming on a power play at 10:16 of the final frame.
Instead of building off of that effort, though, the Lakers had a mental letdown and allowed Zach Blaisdell to deliver a counterstrike just 34 seconds later that appeared to deflate Fort Frances.
After Ampe lost his cool and picked up a roughing penalty, Nathan Paulsen made good on the man advantage at 15:51.
Adduono capped the scoring 34 seconds later, with Ampe finishing with 32 saves while falling to 18-10-1.
It was better news last Tuesday (Jan. 25) as the Lakers dumped the Sioux Lookout Flyers (10-28-5) by a 6-1 margin at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Katapaytuk scored twice in the win while Stevenson, Caulfield, Jon Sinclair (shorthanded), and Zach McCool had the others for the Lakers.
Jake Wentz netted the lone goal for Sioux Lookout.
The Lakers return to action tomorrow (Feb. 3) at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena to try for some payback against the Wilderness, who now have won three in a row and 12 of their last 13 games overall.
The Lakers then get four days off before hosting the fourth-place Dryden Ice Dogs (26-18) on Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m.