Last place Lakers looking to rebound quickly

Jamie Mountain

The Fort Frances Lakers haven’t made things easy on themselves as of late and it’s time to get back to work.
The squad has dropped its last four games and with the SIJHL’s Bill Salonen Cup Playoffs quickly approaching, Lakers’ head coach and general manager is stressing that his players need to not feel sorry for themselves.
Fort Frances opened the weekend with a 3-0 loss at home to the Thief River Falls Norskies before following that up with its worst showing of the season on Saturday night in a 10-1 thrashing at the hands of the Wisconsin Lumberjacks in Spooner.
The Lakers then found themselves in the shredder that was the Red Lake Miners with a 7-2 loss on Monday night at the Cochenour Arena.
“[We need to] learn from it, move on,” Strachan said about the team’s recent slump.
“We just arguably played the best two weeks of our season, beat some good teams and it wasn’t by fluke or accident. It was because we earned those wins, we worked for them.
“We need to get back to that,” he urged. “This has been one of our Achilles’ heels all season, up and down work ethic. We have to put it together these last six games [of the regular season].
The Lakers (18-27-3-2 heading into last night) had a glorious chance to move past the Lumberjacks (20-26-4-1) for fifth place in the standings with some wins over the weekend, but it was not to be.
On Friday night here, Fort Frances was unable to solve Norskies’ goalie Caleb Sauer as he turned aside all 29 shots he faced to record his second consecutive SIJHL shutout.
After a scoreless first period, Thief River Falls (29-20-3) opened the scoring during a second-period power play that resulted in Connor Kalthoff finishing off a 2-on-1 with teammate Justin Schwartzmiller at 5:29.
The Norskies potted another marker near the midway point of the game as Nate Brown’s long pass up from his own zone helped Tyler Johnson split the Fort Frances defence and go in on goal where he slid his 16th of the season past Lakers’ goalie Alex Bugeja.
Special teams then helped the visitors salt away the road victory in the third as Johnson and Jack Michels worked it around before getting it to Joe Collins up high as he snapped in a man-advantage goal with seven-and-a-half minutes remaining to round out the scoring.
Bugeja made 35 saves in defeat for Fort Frances.
“Dull, not how we had been looking up to this past weekend,” Strachan said of the game.
Then on Saturday night at the Spooner Civic Center, the wheels fell off for the Lakers after what Strachan described as the Lumberjacks scoring a “fluke goal.”
After going scoreless through the first half of the opening period, Wisconsin came to life, getting goals from Ryan Wolf, Cameron Birkeland and Alex Bren, with his first in the SIJHL, as the hosts took a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes.
“Right after their fluke first goal, it stunned us and we played that way the rest of the night,” Strachan admitted.
The Lumberjacks kept the onslaught coming for the Lakers and blew it open in the middle stanza as they outscored Fort Frances 5-1 to go up by seven after 40 minutes.
Braden LaPorte, Matt Turnbull, Joel Matthews and Tyler Shetland added to the onslaught before Lakers’ defenceman Jaden Wake finally put the visitors on the board at 16:18.
But Dalton Garcia answered that just 20 seconds later with his 19th of the campaign to make it 8-1 Lumberjacks after 40 minutes.
Wisconsin then finished off the romp in the third with Turnbull and Parker Brakebill finding the back of the net to complete the one-sided decision.
Hunter Adams made 33 saves to earn the win for the Lumberjacks.
Dean Buchholz started the game for the Lakers, allowing five goals against on 22 shots to take the loss. Bugeja made 15 stops on 20 attempts in lengthy relief.
“I wouldn’t have believed it but we had more puck possession time than them through the game,” Strachan said of the one positive despite the lopsided decision.
On Monday night, The Red Lake Miners got three points apiece from Spencer Milne and Jordan Baranesky as they rolled to the romp over the Lakers at the Cochenour Arena.
Fort Frances did open the scoring midway through the first period as Ben Hoefler backhanded one in from close range for his 11th goal of the season.
But Red Lake roared back in the middle stanza, however, by striking four times to go ahead 4-1 after 40 minutes.
Power-play markers from Keilan Toews and Jordan Baranesky put the hosts in front before late efforts in the frame courtesy of Rajvir Sanga and Shaye Sommerfeld extended the cushion.
“Good first 20 minutes and then the intensity went away, sloppy, soft and too many penalties,” Strachan lamented.
“We are looking to blame something or someone right now and we need to look in the mirror and get back to working hard.”
In the third, the Miners (31-17-3-2) kept coming and got another as a Howe man-advantage goal at 6:33 was his 20th overall in his rookie year in the SIJHL.
Moments later Milne added his 24th of the campaign as Red Lake went up by five.
A deft deflection by Dallen Bulger in front saw him pick up his first league tally with eight and a half minutes to play to make it 7-1.
The Lakers then rounded out the scoring at 15:46 as Stone Stelzl wheeled out of the corner and snapped in his 17th through a crowd.
Zach Willms made 27 saves to earn the win while Bugeja turned aside 37 shots to take the loss for the Lakers.
The Lakers resumed action last night when they welcomed the rival Dryden GM Ice Dogs (23-24-4 heading into yesterday), with the outcome not known as of press time.
Fort Frances then will end the week with a home-and-home series against the league-leading Thunder Bay North Stars (33-15-3).
Thunder Bay will host the opener on Friday night at the Fort William Gardens while the Lakers will host the finale the following night at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.