Things haven’t been looking up for the most part for the Fort Frances Lakers this season.
But that isn’t preventing their head coach from looking up in the standings.
“We have a goal to finish third in the league,” Wayne Strachan said in a press release.
“We have a ways to get to this point but with the personnel we have in the dressing room and a lot of hard work, we can achieve this as a team,” he stressed.
Strachan will need more than positive thinking from his Lakers’ squad that now has lost three-straight games, and 10 of its past 11, after a pair of road defeats last week.
The fifth-place Lakers (6-17-3) suffered a tough 5-3 loss to the third-place Sioux Lookout Flyers (11-15-2) last Thursday night in Sioux Lookout, then were spanked 8-2 in by the second-place Dryden Ice Dogs (21-3-2) on Friday.
“Our inexperience has gotten the best of us throughout most of the season,” noted Strachan.
“However, we need to keep working hard to grow further as a team, and start taking pride in our game and being accountable for our play and mistakes,” he remarked.
Fort Frances watched Dryden put on a clinic in power-play efficiency Friday as the host Ice Dogs cashed in on all four man-advantage chances.
Chad Liley (power play) and Kyle Heck made it 2-0 midway through the first for Dryden, winner of its last nine in a row, before Jordan Carne fired back with his sixth of the season for the Lakers at 13:53.
Kevin Burton, who led all scorers with three points in the game, then tallied for the Ice Dogs at 16:38.
Then in the second, Brenden Church and Tim Kavanaugh made it 5-1 for Dryden before Cody Edwards netted his first goal as a Laker about a minute later to give Fort Frances some hope.
But the Ice Dogs dashed that in the third with three more goals. B.J. McClellan scored even strength before Mike Lennon and Jon Mitchell added power-play goals to complete the rout.
Josh Baker made 33 saves to improve to 2-0 on the season while Jameson Shortreed was under fire all night, turning aside 48 of 55 shots to fall to 4-13-1-1.
One night earlier, the Lakers appeared headed to victory in Sioux Lookout when Henry Gutierrez’s second of the game—and seventh of the season—at 12:34 of the third made it 3-2 for Fort Frances.
But Mike Jourdain’s roughing minor 43 seconds later turned into a tying goal by Clayton Lewis at 14:45.
Then one of the players sent packing—during one of six deadline week deals manufactured by the Lakers before Dec. 1 as part of teams cutting from 45 to 25 player cards—came back to haunt the Lakers.
Dwight Lee, who was sent to the Flyers only days earlier for future considerations, notched the go-ahead goal at 15:25, then scored again just 13 seconds later to make it three goals for Sioux Lookout in a 53-second span.
Colten Brule and Adam Wensley, who had three points in the game, also scored for the Flyers while Colton Kennedy netted his team-leading 18th of the year to account for the Lakers’ other goal.
Jordan Giguere made 38 saves for the win while Shortreed kicked out 32 shots in taking the loss.
Besides the Lee transaction, Strachan made a handful of other deals last week which have, unfortunately for the Lakers, seen more of the players dealt for end up elsewhere than those who did report.
Edwards and forward Justin Erhart did make the trip to Fort Frances in a trade with the Blind River Beavers of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
“Justin is a 6’1”, 190-pound forward with skill and strong skating ability,” noted Strachan. “He was brought in to be a top-six forward and log a lot of ice [time] to contribute to the team.
“Cody is a 5’8”, 160-pound forward who is very fast and a digger,” Strachan added. “He has an offensive upside and will get the opportunity to log a lot of ice time for the Lakers.
“He is a very good penalty-killer.”
Meanwhile, the Trenton Golden Hawks sent the playing rights to defenceman Felix Gilbert to the Lakers to complete a trade from the summer that saw defenceman Rod Bouchard go the other way.
But Strachan said Gilbert will not be reporting and has decided to go to school, instead, with Trenton still on the hook for a player to finalize the trade.
A deal with the Melville Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League still is pending. Forward Jordan Johnson was acquired by the Lakers for future considerations, but has not yet decided if he will report.
In other news, the Winkler Flyers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League sent the playing rights to defenceman Mitch Lutz to Fort Frances for future considerations.
But that trade fell through when the Waywayseecappo Wolverines of the MJHL snatched Lutz off waivers, which all players included in deals between Junior ‘A’ leagues in Canada must first go through.
The Lakers then traded the playing rights to forward Jake Ransom (five goals, three assists in 24 games) to the Campbellton, N.B. Tigers of the Maritime Junior ‘A’ Hockey League for future considerations.
But Ransom decided not to report to the Tigers and will return to his club from the 2008-09 season—the Minnesota Owls of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League.
Fort Frances also bid farewell to forward Anders Wick, who had two goals and three assists in 22 games with the Lakers this season.
“It was a very hard decision to make in releasing Anders,” said Strachan. “He was a great kid who put a lot of hard work into playing here for the Lakers.
“He was a good team guy and we wish him the best of luck in the future.
“In the end, we made the decision to release Anders due to his age (20) and our team going in the direction of building for the future,” Strachan added.
The moves leave the Lakers with three player cards open until the Jan. 10 trade deadline.
Fort Frances will try to snap its losing streak with a rematch against the Ice Dogs back in Dryden tonight.
The squad then returns home for a 7:30 p.m. tilt on Saturday against the fourth-place K&A Wolverines (9-17-4), who lead Fort Frances by seven points although the Lakers hold four games in hand.
Fort Frances then will try their luck against the Ice Dogs again when Dryden visits the Ice For Kids Arena next Tuesday (Dec. 15) at 7:30 p.m.