Lakers return from holiday break with win

Lucas Punkari

The 2011 portion of the SIJHL season concluded just as it started for the Fort Frances Lakers—with a win over the Thunder Bay North Stars.
After enjoying a lengthy layoff following a 6-1 win over the visiting Iron Range Ironheads on Dec. 19, the Lakers returned from the Christmas break last Wednesday in Thunder Bay, where they extended their current winning streak to four games with a 6-2 victory over the North Stars, who they have beaten three times on the road during their recent run.
“I believe that the game last week there was very similar to the ones that we had there a week-and-a-half ago,” noted Lakers’ head coach and general manger Wayne Strachan.
“I didn’t know what to expect from us as we had only skated a few times after a week off,” he admitted.
“But we came out and worked hard, pressured the puck, and stayed disciplined, which were three things that we weren’t doing at all during our slump a month ago.
“We got out to an early lead on the power play and then scored a pretty goal a little bit later to lead 2-0 after the first,” Strachan recalled.
“And in the second, they [Thunder Bay] pressed for a little bit but we managed to continue to get the breaks and extend our lead.
“In the third period, I thought that both teams kind of went through the motions but our power play came through with another marker to solidify the win,” he added.
Ryan Wildman scored twice in the second period, with Byron Katapaytuk assisting on both of those goals and another by Jordan Christianson in the first period.
Also tallying for the Lakers were Henry Gutierrez, Bryan Broders, and Jordan Larson while Blake Boaz and Brandon Fehd each had a pair of assists.
“After the game, I was asked by one of our board members about who I thought stood out,” noted Strachan. “And to be honest, I thought everyone on our roster made some kind of contribution in the win.
“I liked the way that Ryan Wildman played offensively,” he said. “I thought Connor Hady and Jon Carlson both played well on our back end.
“And in net, Tyler Ampe made some big saves throughout the game.”
With the win, the Lakers improved to 23-8-4 on the season for 50 points, which has opened the gap between them and the third-place North Stars to 13 points.
The four-game winning streak also puts the Lakers just seven points behind league-leading Wisconsin, although the Wilderness do hold three games in hand.
“To get the six points against the North Stars was big for us as if we lost those three games against them, they would be right behind us on points,” said Strachan.
“And even one or two losses would have put even more pressure on us to get points.
“Moreso that just the points, though, I believe it was huge for us to win these games as we needed to gain that confidence and assure ourselves that we are capable of competing and putting ourselves in situations to have success,” Strachan added.
“Our team is built so that we don’t have to rely on one line or a few players as we complement one another and everyone helps the cause in their role.
“We know that there is still a lot of hockey left and we need to continue to grow on what we have done in the past two weeks, and to also keep improving for the playoffs,” he stressed.
In addition to their league game last Wednesday, the Lakers also played an exhibition game against the Fort Frances Thunderhawks senior men’s hockey team here the following night, with Colton Spicer notching the game-winning goal in a shootout to give the Lakers a hard-fought 4-3 win.
“I thought we could have been better intensity-wise and we could have pushed the pace a little bit more, but the T’hawks battled hard and gave us a real good test,” Strachan said.
“I thought [goalie] Chris Medicine played a heck of game in net for them, and I’m sure it was entertaining for the fans to see the game go to a shootout in the end.”
Larson, Gutierrez, and Carlson scored for the Lakers in regulation time, with Kevin Webb, Josh Meyers, and Riley Caul replying for the Thunderhawks.
After hosting the Sioux Lookout Flyers last night (the outcome wasn’t known as of press time), the Lakers will conclude a three-game homestand at the Ice For Kids Arena over the weekend.
They will welcome the Iron Range Ironheads on Friday, then the North Stars on Saturday. Both games start at 7:30 p.m.
“With Iron Range coming in on Friday, we will look to control the puck and have good puck movement against them,” said Strachan.
“And if we can do that, we will give ourselves a great opportunity to be successful against them.
“Against the North Stars, we need to forget about the last two weeks and what has happened against them in the past as they still have [three] games in hand on us,” he noted.
“And we will look to do the exact same things that we did against them in their rink.
“Obviously, we would like nothing more than to keep this streak alive,” said Strachan. “But we need to remember why we have had success in the past two weeks and that is because of our work ethic.”