A new face was able to help the Fort Frances Lakers snap out of their funk over the weekend.
Kyle Uzelman, who was acquired from the Red Lake Miners for a player development fee last Wednesday, had a debut to remember as he scored the overtime winner and dished out four assists as the Lakers snapped a six-game losing streak with a wild 6-5 win over the expansion Wisconsin Lumberjacks on Saturday night at the Spooner Civic Center.
Wayne Strachan is more than happy to have Uzelman’s presence in his lineup.
“We knew what he was capable of offensively but to closely watch him, he has a good stick, causes turnovers, carries himself well and doesn’t get flustered,” the Lakers’ head coach and general manager lauded of the 20-year-old forward.
“He is calm and a leader. Very impressed, to say the least, we were of his game Saturday.”
Uzelman, a Sherwood Park, Alta. native, tallied three times and added 10 helpers in 13 games with the Miners this season and wasted little time in settling in with his new team on Saturday.
The first period was all Lakers (8-10-1) as they got goals from Tyler Malpass, Noah Loveday and Flynn Perry to jump out to a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes.
Uzelman assisted on both Malpass’s and Loveday’s markers.
He then earned his third helper of the night as Kiernan Bailey went high on Wisconsin goalie Matt Fitzgerald for his first as a Laker to make it 4-0 early in the second frame.
But the Lumberjacks suddenly roared to life after that.
Braden LaPorte got the hosts going by blasting one in from the left side at 4:33 before Dalton Garcia swiped the puck behind the net and fed an open Parker Brakebill in front, who finished off his sixth of the season at the seven-minute mark.
Ryan Green then connected from the slot on a two-man advantage to make it a one-goal game.
Continuing to press, the Lumberjacks (5-12-2 heading into last night) evened it at 13:40 off a scrambled draw that resulted in Nicholas Foldesi snapping in his second from the right faceoff circle to knot it at 4-4.
“We got scrambling defensively again, so we definitely had some tense moments,” Strachan conceded.
But refusing to come completely unravelled, the Lakers regained the lead three-and-a-half minutes into the third when Stone Stezl knocked in his own rebound on a power play. Uzelman drew his fourth and final assist of the night on the goal.
A nice cross-ice pass from Lukas Lundgren helped the Lumberjacks force overtime with 8:17 left in regulation as he found Cade Moreland, who stuffed in the equalizer into the open side.
Heading to the extra frame, MacKenzie Flett broke up a Lumberjacks’ rush allowing Uzelman and Malpass to skate into the Wisconsin zone, where Uzelman eventually neatly tucked in the game-winner 24 seconds in to cap off the high-scoring affair in impressive style.
Alex Bugeja made 35 saves to earn the win while Fitzgerald stopped 27 shots in taking the loss.
“We had purpose back in our game and we showed resilience, something we haven’t had through the losing streak,” said Strachan.
“Our second key to the game was to play desperate, meaning do whatever it takes, and the analogy we used I truly believe the boys bought into and wanted to complete the task.”
Offence was hard to come by for the Lakers during their six-game slide, so the fact that his squad potted six goals on Saturday night was a sight for sore eyes for Strachan.
“That’s been our nemesis through the slump, so to break out with six goals is a good feeling and I believe we have realized again how–and why–we are successful in scoring by our shot charts the last few games,” he noted.
“Everyone was so critical about our last loss at home and we were the most disappointed, but if you look at the analytical stats we had the puck more than Thief River, outchanced them and outchanced them in Grade A area shots.
“Yes, we lose the game and to us in an embarrassing manner, but it was a step in the direction we needed to start scoring and realizing where we need to get the puck to, to have a higher success of scoring,” he added.
“All we can hope for is they liked that taste of winning and understand what they did to achieve that accomplishment.”
The Lakers are back in action tonight against the host Thief River Falls Norskies (11-7-2) at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Then they’ll cap the week by welcoming the defending SIJHL champion Thunder Bay North Stars (14-3-2) on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
“We need consistency in our game, whether it be our work ethic, our team defensive play, our game plan, and getting pucks to the net area,” Strachan stressed about what the team needs to do better in this week’s games.
“We still have room to improve, but Saturday was a better step in the right direction.”