Lakers turn tide back in right direction

Jamie Mountain

The Fort Frances Lakers have a little jump in their step after being on the right side of the scoresheet in three of their last four games.
The squad snapped a six-game losing streak by doubling the last-place Minnesota Iron Rangers 6-3 last Wednesday in Hoyt Lakes.
Then on Friday night, in what very likely was a first-round playoff preview, the Lakers cruised to a 6-1 win over the fourth-place English River Miners at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Ian Tookenay and Nick Lucas both notched three assists to help the cause.
Ismael Ralsten turned aside 41 shots to earn the win.
Saturday night was the lone blemish for the Lakers as Evan Walls’ breakaway goal 2:04 into overtime was the difference in the second-place Dryden GM Ice Dogs’ 5-4 victory here.
Adam Withers scored twice and added an assist while Tookenay provided two helpers in the loss.
On Monday, the SIJHL rewarded Tookenay for his efforts by naming him its Play It Again Sports player-of-the-week for the period ending Feb. 18.
The 17-year-old Fort Frances native totalled seven assists through three games.
“He’s improved right from the get-go,” Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan lauded after Monday afternoon’s 4-1 win over the visiting Iron Rangers.
“He’s a player that is very dedicated on and off the ice, takes good care of himself, trains hard to make himself a better player. . . .
“On the ice, he has a high hockey I.Q.,” Strachan added. “He knows what to do, he knows where to be, and he’s having success in working with his teammates to create scoring opportunities.
“I’m not sure if he had a goal last week but he had numerous chances,” Strachan noted.
“He’s been a little snake-bitten, but he’s just a heads-up player and he’s able to read the ice and find his linemates to create scoring chances,” he reiterated.
As the youngest player on the Lakers’ roster, Tookenay currently sits fourth on the squad in scoring with 32 points, including nine goals.
In Monday’s 4-1 triumph over the Iron Rangers (4-39-1-2), Tookenay earned an assist while Jaedin Ness scored twice.
Withers also chipped in with a goal and two helpers to help the Lakers improve their record to 14-28-2-4.
Brett Akins earned the win in goal, turning aside 24 shots.
“I think it’s always better when you win,” said Strachan. “Guys are, I think, feeling good about themselves.
“I think they’re starting to believe in what we can accomplish and believe in themselves, and good results are happening because of it.”
Defenceman Jack Dunnell returned to the lineup after missing the past seven games with an injury and said he felt good despite some rust.
“I could tell I was kinda a little out of shape still, but it felt good to be back in [the lineup],” he remarked.
Dunnell also feels he’s meshed well with his Lakers’ teammates since being acquired from the Thief River Falls Norskies back on Dec. 1.
“I think I’ve fit in pretty good,” he remarked. “I knew a couple of guys coming in.
“I’m an older guy so I kind of know how juniors go now, so I like it so far,” he added.
With also getting captain Julian Uhryniuk back recently, Strachan believes it’s been helpful to the team to have more healthy bodies to carry the load.
“With Julian, I think [he’s] our heart and soul,” Strachan said. “He’s a true Laker player in his work ethic and what he brings to the team.
“He’s a guy that never gives up, he competes at both ends of the ice,” he stressed. “We can ask him to play defence, he doesn’t complain, he goes out there and does everything for the team.
“It’s [also] huge to get Jack back,” added Strachan. “Just for a body, for one.
“You know, you play with only four defenceman for the better part of the last four games anyways, [so] it’s huge to get Jack back tonight.
“He’s a veteran, he brings that veteran presence, calms things down, plays with poise, adds to our power play, and he’s just a smart hockey player,” Strachan lauded.
“The more we can get healthy here, and if we keep believing in ourselves, we know what we can accomplish.”
The Lakers are back in action this Friday at 7:30 p.m. when they wrap up their four-game homestand against the Miners (23-19-0-4).
Then on Tuesday, they visit the third-place Thunder Bay North Stars (31-12-4-1) at the Fort William Gardens.
Strachan believes his squad will have to keep working hard, and playing the right way, if they are to finish the regular season off strong.
“It’s team-first, it’s not a time for individualism,” he stressed. “We need to play playoff hockey right now and battle.
“Friday will be another game where it’s, more than likely, our first-round opponent,” Strachan noted.
“So we need to prove that we’re capable of competing with them, and giving them everything we’ve got to prove that the first round is going to be a battle and it’s not gonna be easy for either team.
“We just need to keep our minds fresh and work hard to prepare for Friday and, obviously, continue to do what we’ve been doing through the last week here,” he remarked.