Lakers using home ice to their advantage

Lucas Punkari

As a result of their second place finish in the SIJHL regular season standings, the Fort Frances Lakers were able to nab the always important home-ice advantage for their semi-final series with the Dryden Ice Dogs.
And with the Ice Dogs working their way back into the series heading into Game 4 last night (full details of that contest were not available as of press time), the factor of playing host to Game 5 here tomorrow night at the Ice for Kids Arena has become even more pivotal.
“It is very important to hold the home ice advantage for this series,” Lakers head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said.
“But for ourselves, it is important to bounce back to the way that we were playing early on in this series, and for us to not give them any momentum,” he added.
After winning the first two games at home on Thursday and Friday, the Ice Dogs picked up their first win of the series in Dryden on Monday evening with a convincing 4-1 triumph, thanks in a large part due to a three goal outburst in the opening frame.
“We were not ready to play,” Lakers head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said.
“We didn’t have the same intensity as we had in the first two games against Dryden, and as a result, they jumped on us,” he added.
Dryden forward Rory Court was an unstoppable force for the Ice Dogs on Monday night, as he scored two of his team’s goals in the first period and also assisted on markers from Cole Sonstebo and Paul Thompson.
Alex Bruess had the lone goal for the Lakers in the loss.
Monday’s victory for the Ice Dogs erased the momentum that the Lakers had built on Friday night here, as they turned in a strong performance on their way to a 3-2 triumph in Game 2.
“It was a very exciting game,” Strachan enthused.
“Both teams had their chances, and they were in each other’s face playing playoff hockey.
“That is what everyone wants to see at this time of year,” he added.
While Davis Smith put the Lakers in front early in the first period, the key goal in the game came near the midway mark of the third period, when Tyler Brodersen tipped an Owen Stauber point shot past Dryden goaltender Eric Szymczyk.
“I don’t really know how I got so open in front,” Brodersen reasoned.
“[Patrick] Sofer made a good pass to Owen Stauber up top, and Owen saw me in front of the net when he took the shot.
“The puck ricocheted off of the middles of my stick and it ended up in the back of the net,” he added.
Bruess would score an empty-net goal later in the period, but the Ice Dogs were able to make things interesting late in the contest as Jesse Linner and Austin Lewis both scored in the dying seconds of the game.
“We made it close and the guys didn’t quit out there, and to only lose by a goal is a lot better than losing by three or four goals,” Ice Dogs bench boss Paul McLean stressed.
“I believe that these teams are very equal, and if we are able to tie the series up at home and come back here on Thursday for Game 5, I think it should be a very good matchup,” he added.
Those two late Ice Dogs markers ruined a shutout bid by Lakers netminder Talor Joseph, as he turned aside 28 shots to earn his second win of the post-season.
“Obviously I wasn’t too happy about giving up my shutout right at the end there,” Joseph conceded.
“But overall, I felt I played really well as I was able to keep my head in the game and I was able to say as focussed as possible,” he added.
The Lakers kicked off the series on a convincing note here on Thursday night, as they cruised to a 6-1 victory over the Ice Dogs.
“I was definitely happy with how things went,” Strachan said.
“Our start to the game was great and that was our focus all week long in practice.
“We want the guys to play with high intensity and to
adhere to the game plan, and I thought they did that,” he added.
The main difference in the contest came during a six minute span in the second period, where the Lakers found the back of the net four times to put the game out of reach.
“We were pretty powerful during that span and they couldn’t even touch us,” Lakers forward Jacob Nolan, who had a goal and an assist during the game, stressed.
“Our power-play was working good, and we were also able to get some quick goals that caught them off guard,” he added.
Kevin Kurm also had a goal and an assist on Thursday, while Simon Desrosiers, Brendan Cawston, Brodersen, and Bruess also lit the lamp for the hosts.
Prior to Thursday’s contest, the biggest story involving the Lakers had to do with who was not in the lineup as Colton Spicer, the team’s second leading scorer, had left the team.
“There was an altercation in practice last Friday, and Colton left the team afterwards and he hasn’t talked to anyone since,” Strachan said following Game 1.
“He left the team on his own accord and we’ve moved on as a group here.
“We’re looking to build toward winning a championship here, and that is our focus,” he added.
At the moment, the biggest concern with the Lakers’ lineup is on the backend, as Desrosiers and Cody Wickstrom are currently out of action due to injuries suffered in the first two games of the series.
Despite that, the Lakers will look to continue their winning ways at home tomorrow night, when they take to the ice at 7:30 p.m. for Game 5 against the Ice Dogs.
Game 6, if needed, will be held in Dryden on Monday night, while a seventh and deciding game would take place at the Ice for Kids Arena here on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.