Lakers take two of three on road

Dan Falloon

After playing seven of their first nine games on home ice, the Fort Frances Lakers went on their first road trip of the 2010-11 season this past week.
And all things considered, the Lakers (7-5) performed well, earning a 5-2 win over Dryden last Tuesday and a 4-2 victory over Duluth on Sunday around a 7-3 loss to Fort William on Saturday.
Given the North Stars, at 9-1, are the class of the SIJHL again this year, the rematch was circled on the Lakers’ calendar after Fort William had rallied for a 4-2 win here back on Oct. 8—making Saturday’s loss a disappointment.
But head coach Wayne Strachan said the score flattered the North Stars, who were able to cash in on Fort Frances’ mistakes.
“Saturday, the score looks like we probably didn’t show up for the game,” he acknowledged.
“A few defensive breakdowns, and our goaltending not being at its best, got us behind the eight-ball early.
“We tried to fight back in the second period and we put in a pretty good performance, and then in the third just couldn’t muster much offence to get back into the game,” Strachan recalled.
The North Stars came out like gangbusters, blitzing the Lakers for four goals and chasing starter Jameson Shortreed before the first-period horn sounded.
Spencer Hogan, who had tallied both the equalizer and the game-winner in Fort Williams’ 4-2 comeback win here Oct. 8, proved his first-period worth Saturday, tallying just 2:15 in.
The Lakers responded quickly, however, as goal-scoring leader Tyler Stevenson evened the game at 1-1 at 4:02.
But Hogan struck again at 11:38 before Mitch Galbraith and Sam Dubinsky notched goals just 15 seconds apart to end Shortreed’s evening at the 17:30 mark.
Fort William increased its lead to 5-1 when Mitch Forbes netted one at 8:28 of the second.
The Lakers refused to roll over, though, as Byron Katapaytuk notched a power-play marker—his seventh goal of the season—at 12:55 to help get Fort Frances back in it.
Newcomer Brad Bienvenu furthered the cause 1:59 later, bulging the twine in his first game since arriving in a trade from Sioux Lookout.
The rally came undone in the third, however, as Forbes scored a pair 2:36 apart early in the period to complete his hat trick and round out the scoring.
In all, Shortreed made 10 saves on 14 shots during his stint between the pipes while back-up Tyler Ampe made 17 saves on 20 shots in relief.
At the other end of the ice, Jay Pelletier turned aside 32 Lakers’ shots.
“It’s a tough loss to take,” Strachan said. “You outshoot them and you have your opportunities to be right in the game with them, and you come away with a pretty lopsided loss.”
The Lakers got back on track Sunday night although their early-game woes struck once again.
Tom Paine opened the scoring for Duluth at 5:13 of the first, stumping Ampe.
But the Lakers got cooking in the second as Henry Gutierrez pumped home his third goal of the season at 10:33.
He was followed by Jace Baldwin, who tallied a pair of power-play markers just 1:25 apart to bring his total to five on the year.
Jaret Leclair rounded out the seven-minute attack with his third at 17:21 to give Fort Frances a 4-1 lead after two.
Josh Wentz brought the expansion Clydesdales closer late in the game, tallying at 15:37, but Ampe shut the door the rest of the way.
He made 28 saves in all.
Duluth’s Cody Stocker turned aside 15 shots in his two periods of work while Jeff Dunaisky stopped all seven shots he faced in the third.
Strachan credited the Gutierrez line with helping to boost the team, especially after falling behind early.
“The line of Henry Gutierrez, Matt Caulfield, and Davis Smith got the ball rolling just with relentless pressure on the forecheck and the rest of the team fed off of it,” he lauded.
“You could feel our bench lift,” he added.
“We got a few more power-play chances ourselves, and buried a couple, and just kept working hard from there on in.”
The surprise performer of the weekend was perhaps Bienvenu, who tallied a goal and an assist over the two games.
“From one skate, and just trying to learn our systems, he looked all right out there,” Strachan noted.
“He’s a hard worker.
“We brought him in for his size and his physical ability,” Strachan added. “Anything that he can help out offensively sure helps.
“And he’s a guy that competes and he goes to the so-called dirty areas of the ice to get the job done.
“He was rewarded with a goal and an assist because of paying the price in front of the net and helping his linemates generate some offence,” Strachan noted.
Bienvenu—and some other Lakers—had a change of linemates in Sunday’s game after Strachan opted to shake things up after the loss in Thunder Bay the previous night.
On the top line, for instance, Leclair went up alongside Stevenson and Blake Boaz while Baldwin was rotated out.
“I switched one guy on each line [Sunday] just to get some new life on each line and add something that maybe the other lines didn’t have before,” Strachan noted Monday.
“I’m not a guy who likes to change lines a lot,” he admitted. “I believe in getting to know them, and chemistry, and them all having a relationship out on the ice.
“[But] I thought it was something we should try to mix it up.
“Some lines had a little more offence. Some lines, I put another grinder out there that can create room for the more offensive guys,” he explained, adding he was considering leaving the new combinations intact, at least for the time being.
The Lakers next see action this Friday at noon against those same Clydesdales as part of the SIJHL’s “Showcase” in Spooner, Wis.
Then they’ll battle the North Stars at high noon on Saturday, but Strachan thinks the Lakers’ practice schedule should prevent any lethargy from creeping into the early puck drops.
“If anything may benefit us in this situation, it’s that we do practice every day at 8:30 a.m., so these boys are comfortable with getting up and having to be thrown on the ice and ready to work hard,” Strachan reasoned.
“We won’t change much in our pattern that we do to prepare.”
As for the other potential downfall of playing a neutral-site game at noon on a workday, Strachan stressed his crew will have to make its own motivation instead of playing off of the cheers and jeers of any crowd.
“We just have to get up mentally ourselves, and prepare ourselves to make the noise on the ice and get the job done on the ice as a team,” he stressed.
“We just have to concentrate on the two games as they do count for points.
“Seeing our record’s at 7-5, I would sure like to gain some ground on getting away from the .500 mark,” he added.
Strachan said their strategies will remain much the same, but the biggest thing he wants to see against Fort William is the Lakers taking the body.
“If you watched our games here in Fort against them and you watched our game on Saturday night, we didn’t seem like we had the same jump and belief that we could beat then,” he argued.
“Our strength is getting it deep on their [defence] and trying to keep it low and attacking their net.
“It’s just mentally, we have to prepare ourselves to face them,” he stressed.
“We just have to believe that we’re right there with them and we have every bit of a good chance to win the hockey game as they do.
“If we do play physical and limit their opportunities, then we can have success against them,” Strachan concluded.
In related news, both Lakers’ special teams streaks remained intact over the weekend—extending their streak of games with a power-play goal to 10 while also bumping their streak of games without allowing a power-play goal to nine.
“I like to pride my teams on good special teams,” said Strachan. “Our penalty kill, we’ve been working hard in the games.
“It seems like when we do go on the penalty kill, our guys are rising to the occasion and doing a great job of limiting the offensive chances.
“We’ve had great goaltending in those situations also,” he added.
“At some point, we’re going to be scored on once or twice, but that’s part of the game.”
The power-play, meanwhile, is operating at a 31.3 percent efficiency (21-for-67), with Strachan noting the attack has been a huge component to the team’s success.
That mark is nearly half of their total output of 44 goals so far this season.
“Our power play has probably been one of the main reasons we’ve had success throughout the games,” noted Strachan.
“Again, it comes down to the personnel buying into the system we’re using and executing the plays.
“[We’ve been] paying the price in front of the net area to get to that area and score some goals,” he noted.