Injuries and illness play havoc on most teams–and the Fort Frances Lakers were bit pretty hard in recent weeks.
An under-manned Lakers’ team suffered the consequences of having a short bench in a pair of blowout losses to the league-leading Thunder Bay North Stars and fourth-ranked Dryden GM Ice Dogs last week.
Fort Frances took it on the chin in an 8-1 loss to the host North Stars (41-3-1-1) last Tuesday before facing a similar fate in an 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Dryden (24-17-4-2) on Sunday night.
“Well, I believe our short bench but don’t want to use it as an excuse,” Lakers’ head coach/general manager Wayne Strachan said of what he felt were the biggest factors in the pair of blowout losses.
“We are fatigued because of it and putting a lot of strain on the healthy players,” he noted.
“In being fatigued, I believe it [is] hurting our mental game,” Strachan added. “We are making little errors that are costing us.
“Whether it be not having coverage at our net or not getting pucks out at our blueline, we have taken far too many penalties, and we most certainly are not getting enough looks to the [opposition’s] net right now.”
Things won’t get any easier for the fifth-place Lakers (16-27-2-1) this week as they were scheduled to face the third-place Thief River Falls Norskies (27-17-4-1) at the Ralph Engelstad Arena last night, with the outcome not known as of press time.
Fort Frances then will cap the week with a trio of home games.
The Lakers will host the Norskies on Friday at 7:30 p.m. before welcoming the high-flying North Stars on Saturday at 7:30.
The squad then will have an afternoon affair against the Ice Dogs on Sunday at 1:15 p.m.
All three games will be played at the Ice For Kids Arena.
“[We need] health and proper rest,” Strachan stressed. “We can ill-afford to lose any more bodies.
“We will continue to work on the skill areas in our game,” he noted. “[But] it’s been tough to work on systems due to number of bodies.
“We have to look at doing a walk-through to refresh the players and get back to our game plan.”
On the injury front, forward Jaedin Ness returned to the Lakers’ lineup Sunday against the Ice Dogs, scoring a goal in the third period.
Ness had missed the last eight games with a shoulder injury.
“I didn’t mind his game,” Strachan said of Ness. “He created some turnovers from using his speed and attacking.
“He worked hard every shift and got his legs back under him.”
Lakers’ captain Nick Lucas will miss the next three weeks with a lower-body injury while defenceman Presten Bobyk (upper body) remains listed as day-to-day
Defenceman Keon Fox (ankle) is expected to be out for a couple of more weeks while forward Kirk Coppock (knee) is day-to-day.
Fellow forward Reece Hopfner (lower-body injury) will have his status known better next week.
As for the pair of losses last week, defenceman Ryan Brandt had a season-high four assists, while forward Cameron Coutre tallied twice and set up two others, to pace the host Ice Dogs to victory.
Dryden stormed out to a 4-0 lead on goals by Trygve Many Guns (two), Braden Shea, and Evan Pakkala.
It was more Dryden in the second period as they got goals from Coutre and Brody Nielsen to go up by six before the game was half-over.
Noah Loveday finally put the Lakers on the scoreboard with a power-play marker at the 10-minute mark.
The Lakers then added another 6:41 into the third on Ness’ 16th tally of the season to trim it to 6-2.
But Pakkala and Coutre both connected later in the frame to cap the scoring.
In all, eight different Ice Dogs had multi-point performances in the victory.
Jacob Anthony made 17 saves to earn the win while Jacob Gnidziejko stopped 40 shots in taking the loss.
“We didn’t give in or quit,” Strachan lauded. “Even though we were down, the guys continued to keep the compete up.
“Noah Loveday and Nate Drobnick, I believe, have been our steadiest players.”
The Lakers were slated to host the last-place Minnesota Iron Rangers (3-46-0-0) on Saturday night, but that game was postponed due to a high number of injuries and illness that has extremely limited the Iron Rangers’ roster.
As one of the two U.S.-based teams in the SIJHL, Minnesota is not allowed to register affiliate players in accordance with Hockey Canada/USA Hockey rules and regulations and thus weren’t able to ice a complete line-up.
A make-up date will be announced by the SIJHL once it is finalized between the two teams.
The Lakers went into the weekend fresh off a rout at the hand of the North Stars last Tuesday night at the Fort William Gardens.
The North Stars used a six-goal barrage in second period to overwhelm Fort Frances, which only had 13 skaters in its lineup.
The Lakers actually opened the scoring near the four-minute mark of the first period when Chase Robideau darted down the length of the ice and fired his seventh of the season past North Stars’ goalie Dougie Newhouse from the right side.
That held up until early in the second, when Michael Stubbs started the hosts’ outburst just 72 seconds into the frame.
The North Stars then struck twice in rapid succession midway through the frame, with Ryan Mignault and Jayden Mrakic both finding the back of the net.
It was more from the North Stars from there as Jacob Anttonen, Mignault, and Alex Erwin all connected to make it 6-1 after 40 minutes.
That spelled the end of the night for Gnidziejko, who was replaced by Matt Booth to start the third.
Jacob Brown added to the North Stars’ cushion just after a penalty had expired as he skated in and calmly tucked a low attempt in at 7:21.
He then capped the night’s scoring with his second of the nigh at 17:30.
Newhouse made 19 saves to earn his ninth-straight win.
Gnidziejko suffered the loss in allowing six goals on 39 shots while Booth handled 17-of-19 attempts he saw in relief.