Lakers stumble through winless week

Jamie Mountain

The best thing for the Fort Frances Lakers to do is move on from the disappointment of losing all three of their games last week.
Last Tuesday night (Jan. 39), the surging North Stars cruised to a 6-2 romp over the Lakers during the SIJHL’s annual “Showcase” that was held at the Ice For Kids Arena here for first time in team history.
All six SIJHL teams played two games apiece over Tuesday and Wednesday in front of college, junior, and pro scouts.
Brendan Gillis, Owen Belisle, Alex Leonidis, Jake Behse, Joe Newhouse, and Troy Sherman all scored to pace Thunder Bay’s attack.
Ian Tookenay and Jaedin Ness replied for the Lakers.
Wednesday night produced a better result for the Lakers, but they still came out on the short end of a 4-3 loss in a shootout against the Dryden GM Ice Dogs to close out the “Showcase.”
Tookenay scored twice, including the late game-tying goal, in a losing cause.
Tookenay opened the scoring when he broke in alone and fired a top-shelf wrist shot past Ice Dogs’ goalie Landon Pavlisin 11:08 into the first period.
Adam Withers then put the Lakers up by a pair when he also found some open ice and made no mistake at 15:09.
Jacen Bracko gave the visitors some life when he bulged the twine behind Lakers’ goalie Ismael Ralsten with 3:02 left in the second period to cut it to 2-1.
Evan Walls then evened it at 2-2 with a short-handed beauty just under three minutes into the third.
Malcolm Huemmert gave the Ice Dogs their first lead of the game at 7:49 when he finished off a cross-ice feed from Woody Galbraith and Dakotah Woods to make it 3-2.
But in the final minute, with Ralsten pulled in favour of an extra attacker, Tookenay busted to the right side of Pavlisin and directed home a set-play feed off a face-off with just 47 seconds left to knot the score and force overtime.
“It felt good, legs weren’t heavy,” Tookenay said about his performance after the game.
“Especially when you have back-to-back games, I felt light on my feet.”
After the extra period solved nothing, the game went to the shootout.
Bracko and Matthew Pitchenese both made good on their attempts while Ness and Noah Loveday were stoned on theirs as Dryden earned the extra point.
Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan was happy with the team’s overall effort during the “Showcase.”
“I’m not going to take anything away from our effort,” he said after the loss to Dryden.
“I commend the guys for coming back tonight and doing what they did.
“They played that team [Dryden] hard right to the end, they didn’t quit, tied it up late, and [we] had our opportunities in overtime to maybe close the game out,” he noted.
“Shootouts have kind of been our Achilles’ heel this year,” Strachan laughed.
One thing Strachan did note, however, was that he felt the “Showcase” games could have had more support from the community.
“It was a great event for the community, you know,” he remarked. “I would have liked to see more support in the stands, especially during the day.
“There was some good hockey games played through the six hockey games,” added Strachan, noting that overall “we had good comments on how it ran.”
He also said the committee the Lakers’ board put together did an excellent job and should be commended for their work.
The Lakers then capped the week Friday night with a game against the first-place Norskies at the the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls.
Michael Johnson notched a goal and added a pair of helpers to pace the Norskies’ to a 6-2 victory.
Alec Daman, Cody Arvig, Connor Bowey, and Parker Simonson also tallied while Withers netted both goals for the Lakers.
Jackson Nelson made 29 saves in earning the win while Brett Akins turned aside 26 shots in a losing cause.
The fifth-place Lakers (11-25-1-4) next hit the ice against the third-place North Stars (27-11-3-0) this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Then they’ll cap the week with back-to-back games against the fourth-place English River Miners (19-17-0-4) on Saturday and Sunday at the Cochenour Arena.
Strachan knows Thunder Bay will be a challenge, as they’ve won 10-straight games, but believes his squad stacks up well against them.
“I believe we have shown and proven we can skate and work with them,” he remarked.
“The biggest thing is we need to do it for 60 minutes,” he stressed. “It seems we play with them for 30-40 minutes [and] if something doesn’t go our way, our game changes.
“We need to keep our emotions on an even keel and be consistent through the game to have a chance at success,” Strachan said.