Lakers wrapping up tough road trip

Lucas Punkari

With just two wins to show from the first five games of a six-game road trip, it’s probably safe to say the Fort Frances Lakers are looking forward to returning home to the Ice For Kids Arena this weekend.
After a neutral-site game tomorrow night in Virginia, Mn. against the red-hot Wisconsin Wilderness, the red-and-white will kick off a four-game homestand Friday night when they host the Duluth Clydesdales.
The last week was a disappointing one for the Lakers as they dropped two of three contests—6-4 to the host Dryden Ice Dogs last Wednesday and then 7-4 to the Clydesdales on Sunday night in Duluth, which now puts them 15 points behind the Wilderness in the race for top spot in the SIJHL.
“Our two losses were very similar as they were very Jekyll and Hyde-like in our performances,” noted Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“There were times in those games where we looked great, and then there were other times where we didn’t have the effort, made some bad decisions defensively, and didn’t really help out our goalie a whole lot,” he remarked.
The Lakers did earn one win during the week, edging the Thunder Bay North Stars 3-2 on Saturday morning in Duluth as part of the SIJHL’s “showcase” weekend.
In last Wednesday’s loss to the Ice Dogs, the teams traded goals during the first two periods before Diego Breckenridge netted a pair in the third to give the Dryden the win, which also was their third-straight over the Lakers.
“We were behind 15 seconds into the game because of a bad penalty, and we never really recovered from that until late in the first,” recalled Strachan.
“And then in the second period, we started to get rolling.
“Then in the third, we came out flat again after we had been working hard to tie the game up and Dryden outworked us for the two goals in the period,” he added.
Byron Katapaytuk led the way with a goal and an assist, with Bryan Broders, Jordan Christianson, and Davis Smith also scoring.
On Saturday, the Lakers ended a two-game skid with their 3-2 win over the North Stars, with Connor Hady notching the game-winner on the power play just past the midway point of the third.
“Our game plan going in was to push the pace as they had played the night before [against Wisconsin, and I thought we did a good job of that for the first period-and-a-half,” said Strachan.
“And their goalie [Marc Nother] made several good saves in that time period.
“Then we sat back and they poured the goals to us in tying it and going ahead because we were standing around and watching the game,” Strachan added.
“But then halfway through the third, we started working again and we were able to fight back and win the hockey game.”
Ryan Wildman netted a pair of goals in the win, with goalie Tyler Ampe standing tall at the other end of the rink with a 28-save performance.
Then Sunday’s game against the Clydesdales was a wild-and-woolly affair as the Lakers gave up four goals in the second period to fall behind 5-1 before scoring three of their own to cut the deficit to one heading into the third.
“I cannot even explain what happened in the first part of the second,” Strachan admitted.
“We were not getting outplayed, but we were making very bad decisions with the puck and also in our decisions in defending our own zone, and we ended up leaving our goalie [Ampe] hanging out to dry,” he noted.
“Then in the last seven minutes, we decided to play Lakers’ hockey, and lo and behold we were down by one goal and Byron rang one off the post at the end of the period that could have tied the game.”
But the Clydesdales put the game away in the final 20 minutes, adding a pair of goals to seal the 7-4 triumph.
“I thought after our play at the end of the second period that we would gain momentum and claw back to have some success,” said Strachan.
“But again in the third, we made a bad decision on the power play and they scored their third-straight short-handed goal of the game.
“When you give up three short-handed goals in a row in a game, you don’t deserve to win,” he sighed.
Katapaytuk scored two goals and had an assist in the loss, which also saw him take the lead in the SIJHL scoring race over teammate Jordan Larson.
Larson and Colton Spicer also tallied in that one.
This week will see the Lakers playing three games, with their first task being trying to snap the 20-game winning streak of the Wilderness in Virginia, followed by home games Friday against the Clydesdales and Monday versus the Ice Dogs.
“These will be three key games for us,” Strachan stressed.
“Our first game against Wisconsin will be against a team that we haven’t beat since September, and the team that we are currently chasing in the point standings.
“In our last two games with them, we came very close, but close doesn’t count in hockey and we need to make that step now to prove that we are for real to the rest of the league, and to Wisconsin,” he added.
“When Duluth comes in here on Friday, we need to have same mentality as we will have on Thursday against Wisconsin, which is defence first and to outwork your opponent until the final buzzer.
“[Then] on Monday against Dryden, we will be going up against a team in Dryden that we haven’t beat in our last three meetings,” Strachan noted.
“And I think we need to come with a great work ethic, hunger, and heart, and to say that ‘enough is enough.’”
The Lakers will welcome forward Jaret Leclair back to the lineup this week after the forward served a suspension.
But the squad currently is waiting to see if Adam Wensley will be able to suit up after he sat out this past weekend with an upper-body injury.
On the back end, the Lakers added 20-year-old defenceman Dalen Porter to their lineup this past week, with the native of Okotoks, Alta. being held off of the scoresheet in his first three games.
“Dalen was added to our team for additional depth on the blueline, and to log some minutes to give our top four guys a rest,” Strachan said of Porter, who played nine games earlier this season with the NAHL’s Minot Minotauros.
“So far he has played well as he keeps the game simple, moves the puck hard, and has done some little things that have helped the team during his first three games with us,” Strachan added.