Lakers wrap up regular season on winning note


A day after having a number of individuals in the spotlight, the Fort Frances Lakers reminded everybody they are the team to beat with the SIJHL post-season about to start.
Lucas DeBenedet concluded an MVP-worthy campaign with a goal and two assists to lead the Lakers to a 6-2 victory over the Wisconsin Wilderness here Saturday night to put an exclamation mark on their first regular-season crown.
Riley Daly, Mason Meyer, Donovan Cousineau, Cam Gobeil, and Kyle Lipinski also scored for Fort Frances (46-6-2-2), which got a 33-save performance from Ryan Ferguson in likely his last game of the season.
Sitting No. 3 on the depth chart behind starter Devin Tappenden and No. 2 goalie Jordan Cartney, Ferguson hardly played like a third-stringer this year in posting a terrific 10-1-1 record with a 3.13 GAA and .888 save percentage.
Alex Rezansoff and Shane Billings replied for the Wilderness (5-51), who got 24 saves from Griffin Strain en route to their 10th-straight loss.
In helping the Lakers to their ninth-straight win, DeBenedet made a convincing final argument for being chosen the Pizza Hut Player of the Year/Most Valuable Player and the CCM Rookie of the Year, both of which he was nominated for on Friday.
That same evening, the 18-year-old from International Falls won MVP and rookie-of-the-year honours as part of the Lakers’ annual awards banquet at La Place Rendez-Vous.
DeBenedet came within five assists of capturing the SIJHL’s Triple Crown.
He won the scoring race with 112 points, seven better than Daniel Del Paggio of the Thunder Bay North Stars (105), and notched a league-high 48 goals—bettering runner-up Zach Grzelewski (Thunder) Bay by five.
Del Paggio was the circuit’s top play-maker, finishing with 69 assists—five more than DeBenedet.
The pair will square off for the MVP and rookie awards, along with John Morales of the English River Miners (MVP) and Jason Reynolds of the Minnesota Iron Rangers (rookie).
Meanwhile, there was no shortage of Lakers put forth as possible award winners at the league level.
Cody Wickstrom, who won the team’s awards for best defenceman as well as its leadership award Friday night, was chosen as a finalist for Gongshow Gear Best Defenceman along with Austin Frank (Minnesota) and Tim Cavar (Thunder Bay).
Cartney, who led the league in wins with a 24-4-0-1 mark and tied English River’s Greg Harney for the lead in shutouts with three, is up for top goaltender along with Alex Reichle (Minnesota) and Eric Mann (Thunder Bay).
Lyndon Lipinski was nominated for best defensive forward, along with Jonathon Losurdo (Minnesota) and Trevor Hynnes (Thunder Bay).
Meyer was named the team’s most improved player Friday night, and will be up for the same award at the league level along with Chris Sitco (Dryden Ice Dogs) and Grzelewski.
Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan rounded out the local nominees for league awards by being considered for the league’s coach of the year, along with Kevin Kahoot (English River) and Jeremy Adduono (Thunder Bay).
Other team award winners Friday night were Patrick Sofer (most dedicated), Gobeil (most gentlemanly), and Kevin Kurm (P.I.T.A., or pain in the butt).
The Lakers now are awaiting confirmation of the schedule for their two-game, total-goal series with Thunder Bay.
Early indications are that Game 1 may be scheduled for Thunder Bay this Friday (March 14), with Game 2 back here March 21.
The winner of that series gets to pick its semi-final opponent in the next round.
The quarter-final match-ups will pit Minnesota against Wisconsin and English River versus Dryden.