Lakers suddenly mired in slump

Lucas Punkari

Even though the Fort Frances Lakers entered the week tied with the Wisconsin Wilderness for top spot in the SIJHL, their recent performances have brought the rest of the league back within striking distance of the season’s early pace-setters.
Going into their game last night with the Duluth Clydesdales at the Ice For Kids Arena here (the outcome wasn’t known as of press time), the Lakers had dropped three of their last four games, including their last two, to sit at 14-5-2.
“I’m not sure what’s going on,” sighed Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“In our last few games, our preparation and focus hasn’t been there and we have looked very lazy out there,” he admitted.
“Some of our veteran players are not leading the team right now.
“I’ve been talking a lot about making a change in the [dressing] room and something has to be done about it, but I have to quit saying it and just do it,” Strachan stressed.
“We need to show that it’s the Laker way or no way, and that’s what we have got to get back to doing here.”
The latest setback for the Lakers last Thursday night may have been the toughest to swallow thus far as they fell 3-2 to the Iron Range Ironheads in Chisholm—becoming the first team to lose to the expansion team.
“That one was hard to swallow,” Strachan remarked. “Our first period was very flat with no energy whatsoever, and two costly defensive errors put us down two goals and gave them the momentum.
“In the second period, we came out better and got back into the game with a goal but bad penalties hurt us again and Iron Range capitalized on the power play,” he recalled.
“We had a late push to get back within a goal in the third period, but it was too late.
“The only real positive of the game was that we out-shot them [34-32] as we didn’t have the extra drive or the will to get it done,” Strachan added.
Henry Gutierrez led the Lakers offensively with a pair of goals—something Strachan has been hoping to see a lot more often from the veteran forward.
“I always tell our [coaching] staff that I know when our team is on because Henry is our workhorse on both five-on-five and on our penalty kill,” he noted.
“To be honest, I haven’t been able to say that a lot this year yet as he has seemed very uninterested at times this season,” noted Strachan. “And against Iron Range, I didn’t think he played all that great in the first period.
“But he was one of the guys that got us going in the second period on, and it was good to see him get on the scoreboard.”
Prior to that stunning loss to the Ironheads, the Lakers dropped a 3-1 decision to the defending SIJHL champion Wilderness here last Tuesday night, which marked the third setback for the Lakers in four meetings this season.
Adam Wensley had put the hosts in front with a goal near the midway mark of the first period, but it was Wisconsin who took over the game from that point on.
“I thought once we scored that goal in the first period, that we would get a little bit of a jump and battle hard to compete with them,” Strachan remarked.
“We had opportunities on the power play to bury them, but there was just no effort from the guys and it was very lazy hockey out there with no one battling or supporting.
“In my opinion, I think Wisconsin toyed with us and the score could have been very ugly if they had played their normal game,” he added.
While Strachan is searching for answers for his team’s recent slide, Wilderness head coach Rod Aldoff is quite pleased with the way his team has been progressing in recent weeks, especially after blowing a three-goal lead to lose 6-3 against the Lakers here back on Sept. 23.
“It’s just like any team really,” Aldoff reasoned. “You just get better as the year goes along.
“This was a little bit of a
different game than the one that we had here earlier in the season, but we never lost that drive and the guys battled right until the very end,” he added.
“As a coach, that is all you can really ask for.”
Following last night’s game, the Lakers will head out for a pair of road games this weekend, taking on the Thunder Bay North Stars on Friday night before travelling down to Duluth for a Saturday evening tilt with the Clydesdales.
“We need to take a step back and look at our game as we haven’t played well in our last five games or so,” Strachan said.
“In these games, we need to get back to the basics and play simple hockey [since] we are a team that needs to work hard in order to win games instead of trying to do a lot of fancy things.
“We have the talent and the players on our team to be successful, but we need to be focused and come in wearing our hard hats,” he stressed.
One positive that could be taken from this past week for the Lakers was the performance of rookie forward Jordan Larson, who notched a pair of goals for Team West at the CJHL prospects games over the weekend in Langley, B.C.
The 16-year-old from Fort Frances, who currently leads the SIJHL in scoring, hit the twine in Team West’s 4-3 overtime win over Team East on Saturday and then did it again in Sunday’s 5-3 triumph.