With the game on the line, Colton Spicer wanted to take the pressure off his head coach.
“I’m not sure Wayne [Strachan] was going to put us out there,” Spicer grinned in reference to the Fort Frances Lakers’ head coach and general manager boss possibly overlooking him and linemates Mason Meyer and Wyatt Cota.
“So we volunteered. We wanted it,” he noted.
Strachan conceded and Spicer thanked him in a big way—notching his hat-trick goal with 41.8 seconds left to give the Lakers a wild 6-5 win over the Thunder Bay North Stars in SIJHL action here Saturday night.
The Lakers (3-1)—coming off a 4-2 loss to the host Dryden GM Ice Dogs last Wednesday—had to rally from a 4-2 deficit late in the second period.
Collecting the puck in the right face-off circle in the Stars’ zone, Spicer wheeled and fired a shot that ricocheted off Thunder Bay defenceman Joe Newhouse’s shin pad and into the net past startled goalie Nathaniel Dupuis.
“I just threw it at the net to cause some havoc,” said Spicer, who notched all of his game-high four points in the final 22 minutes despite fighting a serious cold, which had him break into several coughing fits after the game.
“That was huge for us tonight,” added Spicer, who received an honourable mention as the SIJHL’s player-of-the-week behind Dryden forward Cole Golka after winning it the previous week.
“It was an unlucky loss in Dryden but we came back strong,” he noted.
Strachan said the good fortune didn’t come free.
“When you work hard, bounces come your way,” he reasoned.
“I don’t believe it should have been 4-2 for them because tonight was our best all-around game,” Strachan added.
“That was a 6-2 game for us, not a 6-5 game. It was only that close because our goaltending let us down.”
That comment was in reference to starter Devin Tappenden, who was pulled at 17:36 of the second after giving up his second questionable goal of the period on a soft shot by Newhouse from near the left-wing boards that made it 4-2.
Ryan Ferguson came on in relief and was steady the rest of the way, making 15 saves to earn his first win of the season.
“You just have to prepare like you’re going to start every game,” said Ferguson, who only allowed Bradley Belisle’s power-play goal with 1:13 to go on what amounted to a two-man advantage after Dupuis was pulled for the extra attacker.
“I just have to go out there and stop the puck,” he stressed.
Ferguson preserved the victory by fending off a mad scramble in front of the Lakers’ net in the final seconds—getting some part of his body on a last-gasp shot at the buzzer through the maze of players in front of him.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Strachan said of Ferguson, who hadn’t seen game action since a pre-season appearance exactly three weeks earlier.
“He comes in every day to work and he doesn’t complain,” Strachan added.
“He steps in and makes the saves he has to.”
The teams traded goals in the first, with Avery Siau putting the Stars in front at 4:58 before Miles Nolan responded on the power-play at 17:19, which was the Lakers’ first opening-period goal of the season.
New acquisition Sam Schultz, an 18-year-old defenceman from Hartland, Wis. signed last Thursday, paid dividends immediately.
After setting up Nolan’s goal with a nifty cross-ice feed, Schultz sped into the Stars’ zone and behind the net before threading a pass to Meyer, who drilled it home at 6:35 of the second for a 2-1 Lakers’ lead.
“This is a really good team,” said Schultz.
“There’s good talent on all four lines, and everybody works hard and wants to be here,” he noted.
But following Nicholas Nigro’s stoppable shot that eluded Tappenden at 9:48, Brett Wolframe made good on the second penalty shot awarded in the period after being hauled down from behind by Max Kaercher on a breakaway at the 15-minute mark.
The Lakers, who had missed their own penalty shot earlier in the frame when Dylan Kooner beat Dupuis but not the crossbar, then fell behind by two on Newhouse’s soft goal before Spicer kick-started the comeback.
With Cashen Tighe in the Stars’ penalty box for not having his neckguard on properly, Spicer skated along the Thunder Bay blueline before burying the puck on a cannonball of a wrist shot at 18:48 to cut the lead to 4-3.
Spicer then set up Matt Vela 39 seconds into the third on another man advantage to square the contest.
Only 38 seconds later, Spicer jumped on a horrendous turnover in the Stars’ zone and zipped a shot past Dupuis to put the Lakers back in front.
Lakers’ defenceman Ryan Reeves took a shot off the foot in the first period and had to leave the game.
He did not return and was hobbling after the game, with his status listed as “day-to-day” at this point.
The Lakers’ only injury before that was forward Bryson Jasper, who hurt his wrist in the season-opener against Thunder Bay back on Sept. 19 and was missing his third game Saturday night.
He was expected to be back for last night’s game in Ear Falls against the English River Miners.
Meanwhile, Schultz’s status as an import necessitated a pair of roster moves by the Lakers last Thursday.
Import goalie Stirling Wright was released while defenceman Brandon Janveau was traded to the Elliot Lake Wildcats (NOJHL) for a player development fee.
“It was a tough decision [to release Wright] but with our import situation, we feel we had to make this move,” Strachan noted.
“Stirling has worked hard, had a good attitude, and played well when called upon in the pre-season,” he added.
“We will look to help find Stirling a home in the CJHL,” vowed Strachan.
As for Janveau, “Bringing in [Schultz] presented us with nine defencemen and we have decided to let Brandon go,” Strachan explained.
“Brandon plays a tough rugged style and we like that part of his game.”
In related news, the Lakers’ loss to Dryden last Wednesday was enough to knock them out of the CJHL’s top 20 weekly rankings after being ranked 10th in the pre-season.
First-place Dryden (4-0-0-1) is the only SIJHL team in the rankings.
The Lakers will be at home for the weekend, with games slated Friday night against the Ice Dogs and then Saturday night against the Miners.