Lakers sweep series with ’Dogs

Lucas Punkari

Although their opponent might have found their meetings to be a bad case of déja vu, the Fort Frances Lakers certainly enjoyed their back-to-back run-ins with the Dryden Ice Dogs last week.
A 5-3 win at the Ice For Kids Arena here last Tuesday night, followed by a 6-2 triumph in Dryden on Thursday, helped the Lakers improve their SIJHL record to 10-2-1—leaving them one point back of the league-leading Wisconsin Wilderness heading into play this week.
“I thought that both games were very similar in how they were played,” noted Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“In the first periods, we accomplished our goal by jumping out on them,” he remarked.
“But they were able to claw back each time and swing the momentum a little bit until we scored some timely goals when we needed them.”
Byron Katapaytuk ended his season-long scoring drought in a big way Thursday night, lighting the lamp four times.
“We were talking about the fact that he had been snakebitten in front of the net as a coaching staff before the game, and our trainer Dale Cooper said that he [Katapaytuk] was going to have a big night,” Strachan recalled.
“Once he got the first goal, I believe it was about 15 seconds later that he scored again, on almost the exact same play.
“It’s definitely good to see that for him,” added Strachan. “And if he continues to produce like that, it will help the team out and put a little more of a fear factor into our opponents with more than one line producing.”
Adam Wensley and Colton Spicer also scored for the Lakers in Thursday’s win, with Spicer also adding two assists to give the 16-year-old his first-ever multi-point game in the SIJHL.
“Colton’s very smart offensively, and on Thursday night he made a very smart play to set up Byron’s first goal,” Strachan noted.
“And his goal was kind of lucky as their goalie [Kim Wildhaber] passed the puck right to him.
“I think he’s learning what it’s going to take to play at this level, and I think once he adjusts to that, he will be someone that is going to be a valuable asset to our team,” Strachan reasoned.
Spicer, who had been out for nearly a month with a shoulder injury, started off his week by scoring his first SIJHL goal in last Tuesday night’s triumph over the Ice Dogs here.
He put a backhander past Brett Timmerman after receiving a nifty behind-the-net feed from Jordan Larson.
“It feels pretty good to finally get that first goal,” Spicer, a Sudbury Wolves’ draft pick, said after the game.
“I feel like I haven’t really lost anything after my injury as I feel pretty good out there.
“I might be a little slow here and there, but it’s just about getting back into the game and getting a feel for it once again,” he stressed.
Leading the charge for the Lakers last Tuesday was Larson, who had two goals and a pair of helpers to give the rookie forward 28 points on the season and also increase his SIJHL scoring lead in the process.
“I didn’t think that I would be leading the league in points in my first year, but I’m happy about it,” smiled Larson, who credited linemates Adam Wensley and Davis Smith for his success.
“Tonight [Tuesday] I thought that we were able to start the game off strong in the first period and we were able to carry that over into the second period of play.
“I just happened to put the puck in the net in the first period, and I just tried to build off of that,” he reasoned.
Also scoring for the Lakers in last Tuesday’s win were Connor Hady and Dane Morin.
While the Ice Dogs have yet to beat the Lakers in three meetings so far this year, first-year bench boss Joe West is pleased with how his team is progressing as last year’s SIJHL runner-ups currently occupy fourth place in the standings (5-6-2).
“I figured it was going to be a bit of struggle at first as we didn’t have many players in training camp and we have had some injured skaters,” West noted.
“For me, I’m more interested in getting ready for the games in January, February, and March as I feel that we have enough talent and enough good character in the dressing room to be right in the mix.
“We will be heard from,” he vowed.
After a trip to Chisholm, Mn. last night to face the expansion Iron Range Ironheads (the outcome was unavailable at press time), the Lakers will welcome the Sioux Lookout Flyers to the Ice For Kids Arena on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. tilt.
The two teams the will renew hostilities the following night in Sioux Lookout.
That game will mark the start of a four-game road trip for the Lakers that will see them back in Chisholm next Tuesday (Nov. 1) to face the Ironheads before squaring off with the Wilderness and Duluth Clydesdales that Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 5-6).
For this week at least, the big test for the Lakers will be their back-to-back contests with the surprising Flyers, who sit third in the SIJHL standings at 8-5-1 and are the only team to have beaten the Lakers more than once so far this season.
“They are definitely a team that has given us a hard time as of late,” Strachan noted.
“I hope that our trend of jumping out with the lead during the last four games continues as that is something we haven’t done against Sioux yet this year.
“We need to bring our ‘A’ game as they [the Flyers] are a team that works hard, and their top two lines have some speed and skill so we will have to watch them defensively.
“All in all, if we have a full 60-minute effort, we should give ourselves a chance to be successful in those games,” Strachan reasoned.
On the injury front, Strachan was hoping to have blueliner Jon Stephansson back in the lineup after being sidelined for the last couple of weeks with a concussion.
But he was doubtful that forwards Blake Boaz and Mike Jourdain would be back on the ice this week.
“I would say that Mike is still a bit away as he doesn’t have a lot of strength in his hand at the moment,” Strachan said.
“[But] Blake will be getting his cast off his broken wrist on Nov. 2, so we’ll be looking to get him back into the lineup right away,” he noted.