The Fort Frances Lakers will need to invest in some battle armour if their last game against the English River Miners is any indication of what’s in store for the upcoming first-round SIJHL playoff series between the two squads.
The Miners are a hard-working, in-your-face style of team that tries their best to get under the skin of the opponent.
That was quite evident in the Lakers’ 5-1 win over them Friday night at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Thundering body checks were dished out left and right, not to mention a multitude of ensuing scrums after whistles.
“It [the game] had a little bit of everything,” Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said afterwards.
“Both teams controlled the game at times,” he noted. “It got a little feisty, intense, and had its moments.
“That’s the way they are,” Strachan added. “They’re a hard-working team, they never give up, and they like to play in your face.
“So we’re gonna have to prepare for that.”
Fort Frances did a great job of weathering the Miners’ extremely physical brand of play here Friday night.
Lakers’ captain Julian Uhryniuk and affiliate player James Gushulak both notched a goal and an assist to help the squad improve to 15-28-2-4.
Uhryniuk opened the scoring just 37 seconds into the game when he snapped a shot that beat Miners’ goalie Michael Lenko five-hole.
Jack Bernie then made it 2-0 when he redirected a Uhryniuk shot over Lenko’s left shoulder at 6:19 on a power play.
“It was definitely nice to get out there and get right into it,” Uhryniuk said after the game.
“It’s a lot easier, confidence-wise, to play with a lead.”
Jaedin Ness and Adam Withers tallied 1:18 apart early in the second to extend the lead to 4-0.
Lakers’ defenceman Mark Richter returned to the lineup after missing the last two weeks with an upper-body injury.
But his night lasted just under 30 minutes as he was sent to the showers after fighting Miners’ defenceman Dante Tisi.
“From what I saw from him, [it] was his normal play,” noted Strachan. “He skates well, he plays with that physical edge all the time.
“He did a good job in one-on-one situations and, you know, he’d been out for a few weeks so he got his feet wet again.
“I would have liked to see him play the full 60 minutes but sometimes that’s the way it goes,” Strachan reasoned.
“The more he can get on the ice now and into the action, he’ll get back up to speed.”
Nic Herringer gave the visitors some life when he broke down the left wing and fired a shot short-side past Lakers’ goalie Ismael Ralsten to trim it to 4-1 with 4:57 left in the second.
The Miners then pulled Lenko in the late stages of the game, but the move backfired when Gushulak fired home a long-range empty-netter with 1:05 to go to cap the scoring.
Ralsten earned the win, finishing with 35 saves, while Lenko turned aside 19 shots in taking the loss.
Strachan was pleased with the squad’s effort in grinding out the victory, which was the Lakers’ second-straight against the Miners after also beating them 6-1 here back on Feb. 16.
“I think we’ve done a good job through the last two games [against them],” he enthused.
“We’ve done a little bit of everything ourselves, we’ve shown that we can play with skill.
“I thought tonight we defended fairly good and protected the net, had a lot of bodies in front of ‘Izzy’ [Ralsten] when he needed it,” Strachan added.
“He came up with some huge saves,” he lauded.
“Our power play scores, our ‘PK’ does its job, so it’s good to see and hopefully we can keep it going.”
The Lakers were back in action last night in Thunder Bay against the third-place North Stars (32-12-4-1), with the outcome not known as of press time.
Then they cap the week by hosting the Miners (24-21-0-4) again on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Strachan, meanwhile, is fully aware of how difficult playing the North Stars would be as they’ve played the Lakers tough all season.
He knows what his squad will need to continue doing in order to come out on top.
“It’s a team that’s only lost, I think, one or two games in the last month,” Strachan said of the North Stars. “So we’re gonna have to continue to work on what we have here through the last week-and-a-half.”
“We need to remember why we’ve had success,” he noted. “We’ve played intense [and] we’ve played close to 60 minutes in every game that we’ve won.
“Even in the [overtime] loss to Dryden, I thought throughout the 60 minutes we had a strong effort.
“But we need that compete level high,” Strachan stressed. “We need to keep the game simple, get pucks out of our zone, and not give them any second or third opportunities to create offence.
“We need to defend as five guys on the ice, and take care of our house area and limit their opportunities to get pucks to the net.”
With all the nastiness the Lakers saw from the Miners on Friday night, Uhryniuk knows what his team will be in for this Saturday–as well as going forward in the playoff series against them.
“We’re not the chippiest of teams,” he remarked. “But I thought we held our own out there.
“We tried our best to stay out of the stuff that’s going on [that will] hold us back in the future.
“I imagine the next games we play against them, the chippiness levels are just gonna go up, so we just gotta play through it, play our game, and focus on the goal,” he reasoned.