Heading into last weekend’s action against the Sioux Lookout Flyers and Dryden Ice Dogs, it looked like the Fort Frances Lakers would have a great shot at gaining ground in the race for top spot in the SIJHL.
With the league-leading Wisconsin Wilderness idle, the Lakers had a chance to sit only a point behind the defending SIJHL champs if they could win both of their games.
Instead, the Lakers remain five points back after dropping a 6-3 decision to the host Flyers on Friday night and then falling 5-2 to the Ice Dogs at the Ice For Kids Arena here the following evening.
“It’s the same thing over and over again in our losses,” lamented Lakers’ head coach/general manager Wayne Strachan.
“In both games this weekend, we were not prepared to start and got behind,” he recalled.
“We were out-worked, out-played, and out-hit,” he noted. “And when things are not going your way, hard work is the only thing that can help you achieve better things.
“We need to start taking pride in our game, and we need start working hard and competing at the level that we can,” Strachan stressed.
After opening the season with a 13-1-2 mark, the Lakers have struggled to a 6-7-2 record since Nov. 1—something Strachan feels easily can be attributed to the team’s work effort.
“I believe in karma, and when a team is working hard for things, good things will happen,” he remarked. “And when you go through the motions like we have been for the better part of a month, good things don’t happen.
“The staff is prepared with game plans and practice plans, and we are committed working hard, and we need our players to have this same commitment level,” he added.
On Friday night, the Lakers trailed the Flyers 3-1 after the first two periods, with Jon Carlson notching their lone goal.
Midway through the third, the Lakers had battled back to tie the score at 3-3 thanks to goals by Jordan Christianson and Brett McMahon.
But a few minutes later, the Flyers put the game out of reach with goals from Cory LaCosse and Cody Fraser in a 23-second span.
“We got behind in that game early on because of bad decisions by our defencemen in pinches and stick checking, along with bad goaltending,” Strachan noted.
“We got things going in the right direction in the second and battle back to get in the game, and then Adam Wensley took a very bad [elbowing] penalty in the neutral zone for no reason, and we were down by two goals once again.
“In the third period, we came out firing and pushing the pace to tie the game up again, but then a bad penalty by Christianson [for head contact] put us right back down.
“You can’t play 15 minutes of hockey and expect to win against the good teams in this league,” Strachan stressed.
A night later against the visiting Ice Dogs, the Lakers got off to yet another slow start as goals by Diego Breckenridge and Chris Belhumer in the first eight minutes of play chased starting goalie Tanner Hamilton from the Lakers’ net.
“The reason that I had pulled Tanner was that goals that were scored on him were soft and unacceptable,” Strachan said.
“Our effort wasn’t there for the games early, but our goaltending from both goalies [Hamilton and Tyler Ampe] needs to be much better than it has been in the last two weeks, as we are losing games and points because of it.
“That leaves a big question for us as to if we should be looking for a goaltender who can lead our team going forward,” Strachan added.
Just like they had done the previous night in Sioux Lookout, the Lakers cut the deficit to a single goal heading into the third, with markers by Alex Bruess and Henry Gutierrez making it 3-2 with 20 minutes to play.
But Belhumer and Tyson Holder both found the back of the net in the final frame as the Ice Dogs handed the Lakers their second-straight loss.
“Once again, bad defensive decisions and bad goaltending put us down two goals early,” said Strachan.
“And again in the second, we got momentum going our way to battle back into the game.
“But in the third, unnecessary penalties, a lack of effort, poor decisions on defence, and bad goaltending put us down 5-2 with no life.”
Strachan said defence, physical play, and special teams will be the main focus during practice this week as the squad prepares for its final three games before the Christmas break.
The Lakers will visit the red-hot Thunder Bay North Stars, who have rebounded from a disastrous start to sit only seven points back of the Lakers in the standings, this Friday and Saturday (Dec. 16-17).
The team then will return home for their final tilt of 2011 on Monday (Dec. 19), when they’ll welcome the Iron Range Ironheads at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
“Obviously we need to win these last three games before Christmas in order to stay in the race for second place,” Strachan stressed.
“The bottom line is that we need to come prepared, work hard, play to our potential, and have some pride in our game and as a team.
“We also need our big players and leaders to start competing once again, and producing the way that they can consistently,” he warned.