For the Fort Frances Lakers, a little bit of time off couldn’t have come at a better time.
The local Junior ‘A’ squad had just wrapped up a run of four games in six nights, where they won the first three but then crashed and burned in a 6-1 loss to host Dryden last Wednesday to sit with a 15-7-1 mark heading into a week-long break.
Head coach Wayne Strachan acknowledged the team didn’t play at its best against the Ice Dogs—a squad that tends to give the Lakers fits.
The Ice Dogs, in fact, are the only SIJHL team with a winning record against the Lakers so far this season.
“The best word to sum it up would be flat,” Strachan remarked. “We couldn’t really muster any attack.
“We did get 29 shots, but most of them were from the perimeter,” he noted. “We didn’t have the jump to make things happen.
“Dryden played well,” Strachan added. “They were skating and working hard, and scored some timely goals on the power play.”
The Ice Dogs were consistent throughout last Wednesday’s game, tallying twice on 10 shots in each frame.
Beau DiLoreto got things started 5:46 in, with Jon Mitchell bumping the lead to 2-0 just over two minutes later.
The Ice Dogs went up by three when Jesse Linner tallied at 8:11 of the second.
Lakers’ captain Tyler Stevenson made it 3-1 with his 23rd of the season just 45 seconds later, but Mitchell’s second power-play tally of the night at 16:39 put the hosts back up by three.
Henry Vadnais and Ben McClellan then rounded out the rout with third-period goals.
Tyler Ampe made 24 saves for the Lakers while Ice Dogs’ goalie Ian Perrier turned aside 28.
Ampe has played six of the Lakers’ last seven games while battling a nagging injury, and Strachan felt Wednesday’s performance in Dryden was the culmination of those issues.
“I think the whole team was a little bit fatigued,” he said. “Four [games] in six nights paid its toll on us.
“Tyler was logging most of the action the last couple weeks. It maybe got to him a bit.
“It’s unfortunate, but definitely not his fault,” Strachan stressed.
“It’s a game we’ll forget about, and we’ll have them here and there,” he reasoned.
“Hopefully, we won’t have another one for a while.”
The Lakers had a full week off after last Wednesday’s loss, resuming action tonight (Nov. 24) in Thunder Bay against the North Stars.
Strachan said the team was given Thursday off before practising on Friday.
A dryland workout was scheduled for the weekend, but some out-of-town players were hoping to develop some other plans.
“A few of the players were
going to take this time to go home and visit their families,” Strachan noted.
“It’s a good little break to get away from a busy month of hockey.
“It’s always important to get a little break from the game, and probably they’re happy they get a little break from me for a couple days,” he chuckled.
“It’s good for them to see their families and friends, and go home to a different setting than Fort Frances.”
The break on the ice comes at a very busy time off of it, however, as the Hockey Canada cutdown date is Dec. 1.
The Lakers already are at the 25-player limit but Strachan explained that in order to give the squad some flexibility in December, he plans to pare the roster by two or three before the end of the month.
“If you’re carrying 25 at midnight on Dec. 1, you won’t be able to add anyone before the Jan. 10 [trade] deadline,” he noted.
“We’re definitely looking to add a player here and there on both forward and defence, and we’re going to have to make some decisions on some guys that are on the roster right now.
“We do have 25, and I’d like to be down to 23 or 22 by the cutdown date,” he stressed.
“We’ll keep two or three cards open, and once it gets closer to the Jan. 10 trade deadline, we’ll have to readjust our roster to 23.”
Although it’s not hard to find players for hire at this point, given all junior teams across Canada must cut their rosters to 25, Strachan conceded the players he’s looking for may not come available until the trade deadline.
“We’ll be able to add a guy here or there if we feel we need something to make a run for the playoffs and have some success in the playoffs,” he remarked.
“A lot of players have gone on the trade wire. Right now, you have to sift through what’s going on the wire and who’s available.
“Closer to the Jan. 10 deadline, a lot of teams have made a decision if they’re making a run for the league championship or if they’re going to regroup and go a little younger and try to rebuild for the next year,” he explained.
“It just seems like there are more players that could make an impact on teams at that deadline than at the first cutdown.”
Meanwhile, Strachan said defensive responsibility will be a priority tonight as the hard-charging North Stars will look to cause chaos in the Lakers’ zone.
“Thunder Bay plays a pretty aggressive style in their own rink and we’ll have to be prepared,” he warned.
“We’ll focus on things like that,” he noted. “We’ll continue to work on our power play and PK [penalty-killing].
“They are both effective, other than the last game.
“We’ll go through a few tough practices with a lot of jump and hard work, and prepare ourselves for another showdown with a team that’ll be at the top of the standings,” he continued.
The Lakers return home Friday to face Sioux Lookout at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena, then will wrap up the week with a game Sunday at 6 p.m. in Duluth versus the expansion Clydesdales.
Duluth has been webcasting its games online at www.duluthclydesdales.com
In other news, the Lakers were able to maintain a spot on the CJHL top 20 rankings, although they slipped to No. 18 after being ranked 16th last week.
No other SIJHL teams made this week’s list.