The Fort Frances Lakers made a game of it but the red-hot Thunder Bay North Stars ultimately proved to be too much on Saturday night at the Fort William Gardens.
The first-place North Stars (19-1-1-0) wound up prevailing 3-2 for their ninth-straight victory.
With the loss, the Lakers fell to 9-13 on the season to remain in fourth place in the SIJHL with 18 points–one up on the fifth-place Dryden GM Ice Dogs (7-9-2-1).
“Not taking advantage of our opportunities and lack of production by our power play,” Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan cited as the key to Saturday night’s loss.
An early power play helped Thunder Bay open the scoring six minutes into the game as Joel Willan netted in his 13th of the season, with assists going to Keigan Gerrie and Kyle Auger.
With the assist, Auger now has at least one point in all 19 regular-season games he has skated in for the North Stars.
The Lakers notched the equalizer later in the frame as Kirk Coppock was left with a tap-in following a goalmouth scramble for his ninth of the campaign.
The hosts retook the lead early in the second when Michael Stubbs knocked one in from close range past Lakers’ goalie Jacob Gnidziejko.
After Jacob Anttonen made it 3-1 for the North Stars 3:03 into the third, the Lakers drew closer late thanks to a Jaedin Ness goal with 63 seconds left.
The Lakers then pressed for the equalizer but the North Stars held on from there.
Dougie Newhouse made 28 saves to earn the victory while Gnidziejko turned aside 37 in defeat.
“I liked our compete level for the most part,” Strachan remarked.
“We played with passion and slowed their speed down.”
The Lakers are back on the ice tonight when they visit the third-place Thief River Falls Norskies (11-7-3-1).
Then they’ll face the second-place Red Lake Miners (16-4-1-0 going into action last night) there Friday night before closing out the home-and-home series Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
“Continue to grow defensively, our special teams, and compete level,” Strachan replied when asked what the Lakers will focus on in preparation for their games against the Norskies and Miners.
As for the key to getting back to the winning ways the team enjoyed earlier this season?
“We need to learn how to win,” Strachan stressed. “We need confidence in our game.
“We need to believe we can accomplish beating the teams ahead of us.
“But we have to have more drive and fight in our game to achieve these feats,” he conceded.
In roster news, the Lakers have added defenceman Keon Fox from the North Stars for future considerations.
On the injury front, Isaac Baron remains out (shoulder).
Editor’s note: The details from Saturday night’s game were courtesy of the SIJHL’s website.