The collective sigh of relief taken by the Fort Frances Lakers must have been exhausting.
The Lakers (6-15-3) were back on the wrong side of the scoreboard in a 4-2 loss to the K&A Wolverines (8-16-4) in SIJHL action last Thursday in Thunder Bay.
The loss came two days after Fort Frances stopped a seven-game losing skid with a 9-6 home victory over the Wisconsin Mustangs of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League, who are playing an interlocking schedule against SIJHL teams this season.
The Wolverines, meanwhile, who lead the Lakers by five points for fourth place with Fort Frances holding four games in hand, had just come off a 9-3 annihilation at the hands of the first-place Fort William North Stars (22-1).
But it was K&A that seemed the far more refreshed team against the Lakers as they racked up a 57-18 advantage in shots, with no less than 18 in any one period.
The first period somehow ended scoreless despite the Wolverines outshooting Fort Frances 20-4. Time and again, Lakers’ goalie Jameson Shortreed fended off the seemingly endless K&A attack.
But persistence paid off for the Wolverines at 1:22 of the second when Hartwell Marable put the puck past Shortreed for a 1-0 lead.
Fort Frances tied it at 4:13 when Jake Ransom notched his fifth goal of the season.
Patrick Pinder restored the Wolverines’ lead at 10:51. But 2:02 later, Morgan McNeill put himself in the goal column for the first time this season to square the contest at 2-2.
The Wolverines kept pouring on the pressure and eventually broke through when Luke Haegele beat Shortreed at 5:08 of the third for the go-ahead goal.
Chris Smerek then netted an insurance marker at 7:10 and the Lakers would get no closer.
Shortreed finished with a phenomenal 53 saves in the loss to fall to 4-11-1-1 for the season while Spencer Malone improved to 4-6-2 with his 16-stop effort.
Fort Frances had shaken its losing blues against the Mustangs 48 hours earlier in a game that featured plenty of offence—and plenty of looking the other way when it came to taking any kind of defensive responsibility.
Henry Gutierrez (fifth) and Dwight Lee (third) staked the Lakers to a 2-0 lead after the first period, which ballooned to a three-goal margin thanks to Colton Kennedy’s tally at 6:10 of the second.
Ian Jensen sparked the Mustangs 15 seconds later with a goal of his own and when Jake Olson added another 50 seconds after that, Wisconsin was right back in the game.
But Kennedy’s second of the night at 15:07 was followed 1:44 later by Tim Hennessey’s second of the campaign to put Fort Frances up 5-2.
The visitors sent the message they weren’t going away quietly as Mike Philippe bulged the twine with only two seconds left in the second.
And when Dan Smith and Jensen scored 1:09 apart just before the midway point of the third, the Ice For Kids Arena crowd reached a new level of nervousness.
But Anders Wick settled his team down with his second of the campaign at 11:39 for a 6-5 Lakers’ lead.
Jordan Carne then picked up his fifth of the year at 15:16 and Kennedy capped his hat trick at 17:58 with his team-leading 17th.
Olson made it 8-6 with his second of the night at 18:47, but Tyler Stevenson’s tallied his seventh of the year with nine seconds to play to ice the victory.
The Lakers next play a pair of road games, starting tomorrow night against the third-place Sioux Lookout Flyers (10-14-2).
Then the following night, they’re in Dryden to face the second-place Ice Dogs (17-3-2).
Fort Frances doesn’t play at home again until the Wolverines come calling a week from Saturday (Dec. 12).