Pair of Muskies fitting in with Lakers

Jamie Mountain

Cole Allan and Eric Pitkanen didn’t have much time to think about what went wrong in the black-and-gold’s heart-breaking 4-3 double-overtime loss last Tuesday night to the visiting Sioux Lookout Warriors in the third-and-deciding game of the NorWOSSA final.
That’s because the Muskie pair were donning new colours over the weekend as they experienced their first taste of Junior ‘A’ game action with the Fort Frances Lakers.
It didn’t take Allan very long to make a good impression with his new teammates, drawing the secondary assist on Jack Bernie’s goal that trimmed the Thief River Falls Norskies’ lead to 3-2 during the second period of Saturday night’s 4-2 loss here.
“It’s going good now, it took a little bit to get settled in,” Allan admitted after Sunday afternoon’s 4-2 loss to the visiting English River Miners.
“I just need to keep moving my feet,” he noted. “[The pace] is a lot faster than with the Muskies.
“So I just need to get used to that aspect of it.”
Allan turned some heads once again Sunday when he contributed a pair of assists, the first coming on Christian Ward’s late first-period goal and the latter on Ian Jarvis’ second-period tally.
Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan was enthused with how both Allan and Pitkanen fared in the two weekend losses.
“A little bit of a disappointing end for them [with the Muskies],” he said, referring to their ouster by the Warriors in the NorWOSSA final.
“They gave it their all,” he noted. “I didn’t get to see the last game but I listened to it on the radio and it [sounded like it] was back-and-forth.
“We’re happy to add bodies, No. 1, I guess,” Strachan added. “But both of them are capable of playing.
“Both are guys that we wanted to see try out for us this year, and ‘Scooter’ [Pitkanen] did come to camp and did well.
“Both guys we obviously followed all year in hoping that, at maybe some point, we would be able to add them to the team,” Strachan revealed.
Jacob Siebenga notched a pair of goals for the Miners on Sunday to send the Lakers to their fourth-straight loss.
He opened the scoring when he scooped up a feed from Terix Fischer-Kobes, skated in, and fired a shot past Lakers’ affiliate goalie Matt Booth–making just his second SIJHL start in as many days–midway through the first period.
Both Booth and affiliate Spencer Murphy were the goaltending duo for the Lakers on Saturday and Sunday due to Brett Akins suffering a season-ending shoulder injury while working out and with starter Ismael Ralsten recuperating from an ailment of his own.
Ralsten, however, was expected to play tonight against the host Thunder Bay North Stars.
Siebenga then added his second of the game at 14:02 to put the visitors up by a pair.
Christian Ward put the Lakers on the board with just 14.7 seconds left in the first when he snapped a shot off the right post and past Miners’ goalie Michael Lenko.
Fort Frances then drew even at 15:48 of the second thanks to Ian Jarvis’ 15th of the season–only to see Brody Jennings bury the eventual game-winner just 80 seconds later for the Miners.
Spencer Milne snapped home his 17th of the campaign at 4:16 of the third to cap the scoring.
The Lakers outshot the Miners 43-35, with Lenko earning the win while Booth was tagged with the loss.
“I like the way we played this weekend,” Strachan said afterwards. “We were in both games.
“Maybe a bounce here or there and we could have won either game,” he reasoned.
“Like I just told the guys, we can’t hang our heads,” Strachan stressed. “We gotta look at the positives here.
“We came to play, we battled, we competed, we used our speed to create a lot of good things with it.
“Maybe the difference in both hockey games is just little mistakes that can be corrected–a bad pinch, not picking up a guy’s stick at the net,” he noted.
“We had a few turnovers that were unnecessary and at this time of year, that’s what hurts you.”
Saturday night saw the same outcome–just to a different team.
Blair Lindholm’s 15th goal of the season, coming 14 minutes even into the second period, proved to be the game-winner.
Thief River Falls started off strong by snagging a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes on markers by Parker Simonson and Logan Jackson (power play).
Lakers’ affiliate player James Gushulak trimmed it to 2-1 just over midway into the second.
It was the first goal that Norskies’ goalie Bailey Schmitz had surrendered in more than 214 minutes of game action.
After Lindholm made it 3-1, Jack Bernie brought the Lakers back to within one when the puck found its way to him before he fired it past Schmitz at 15:24.
The Lakers pulled Booth in favour of an extra attacker in the latter stages of the third period, but Simonson chipped the puck up the boards to Jared Pedersen, who put the game away with an empty-netter.
Schmitz finished with 31 stops while Booth made 36 saves in taking the loss.
The fifth-place Lakers (15-32-2-4) face the third-place North Stars (36-12-4-1) at the Fort William Gardens tonight in the final meeting between the two squads in the regular season.
The Lakers then conclude the regular season with a pair of home games–the first coming Friday night when they host the second-place Dryden GM Ice Dogs (38-8-6-2) at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
They then wrap things up by welcoming the front-running Norskies (40-10-2-2) again the following night at 7:30 p.m.
Strachan knows his squad will have a tough go of it to conclude the regular season.
“I think it’s gonna be a good test,” he remarked. “Again, it’s going to be against the top three teams in the league.
“Maybe it’ll give us some confidence we need if we can upset one or two of them.
“It would be great if we could take all three of them but that’s definitely going to be tough,” he conceded.
“But I think we just need to simplify our game, get in the playoff mode, get that intensity like we had this weekend, play hard, and push the pace like we’re capable of,” Strachan added.
The Lakers will open their first-round quarter-final playoff series against the fourth-place Miners (28-22-1-4) next Wednesday (March 21) at 7:30 p.m. at the Cochenour Arena.