The Fort Frances Lakers followed up some of their worst games of the season with one of their best performances of the year in a 5-3 win over the rival Dryden GM Ice Dogs on Tuesday night at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Mathieu Harrold potted the eventual winner seven-and-a-half minutes into the third period on a power play to help the Lakers snap a four-game losing streak that saw their record improve to 19-27-3-2.
“Last night after we lost, we had about a 15-20 minute talk after the game and lots of guys voiced their opinions,” Lakers' head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said after Tuesday's win, whose club was coming off back-to-back blowout losses to the Wisconsin Lumberjacks and Red Lake Miners.
“We knew where we were at and what we were doing to be successful and we knew we needed to get back to that. I think they just put their minds to it and came out focused and they were prepared to play tonight and obviously have success and get the two points.”
Nakoda Thunderchief, Peyton Hughes, Flynn Perry and Noah Loveday also scored for the Lakers while Dean Buchholz made 32 saves to earn the win.
Josh Weber, Justin Pitari and Evan Pakkala replied for the fourth-place Ice Dogs, who fell to 23-25-4.
Jacob Anthony finished with 33 stops in a losing cause.
With the game tied early in the third period, Harrold buried a feed from Loveday at the right of Anthony while the Lakers were up a skater to make it 4-3.
Loveday then added some insurance moments later as he banked a shot off an Ice Dogs' defender and in to round out the scoring.
“The message was just let's get keep getting pucks deep and driving their defence wide and putting pressure on their defence,” Strachan said of the team's mentality heading into a crucial third period.
"I think that worked for the most part. They started to take penalties, we were controlling the play in their zone and cycling the puck and trying to control the puck as much as we can.
“We had guys all over the net and our last three goals were all scored at the net and [we had] bodies there and that's when our team is at its best,” he stressed.
A great shift by the fourth line helped to get the Lakers on the board first as Thunderchief tipped in Nick Hahkala's blast from the point past Anthony 4:22 into the opening period.
Dryden came back with the equalizer midway through the frame with Josh Weber collecting his 23rd of the season.
“I think our fourth line really got us going in the first period,” Strachan lauded.
"It was a bit of a slow start, they jumped on us and our fourth line comes out, works hard, has a hardworking shift and puts the puck to the net and gets us on the board.
“I think after that there was a lot of pressure off our back, maybe a little bit,” he reasoned.
“Guys just went to work. We worked hard all game, did a lot of positive things in moving the puck past them and then creating a lot of offence in their zone.”
In the second, the Ice Dogs took their first lead early in the stanza as Justin Pitari finished off a cross-crease feed from Nolan Marshall from close range just 40 seconds in.
Going to the power play, the Lakers drew level at 14:30 with Peyton Hughes unleashing a high blast from the left side on Anthony to knot it at 2-2.
Flynn Perry then drove to the net, cut in hard and tucked in his 17th to put the hosts back on top with help from Loveday and Matthew Dyck at 16:39.
But Dryden was able to tie it before the second intermission as Pakkala fired his 12th of the year past Buchholz.
The last-place Lakers, who currently sit just two points back of the fifth-place Lumberjacks (20-26-4-1 for 45 points), will resume action tomorrow night when they open a home-and-home series with the league-leading Thunder Bay North Stars (33-15-3) at the Fort William Gardens.
That will begin a stretch of three straight games against the defending SIJHL champs as the Lakers will host the finale on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. before welcoming the North Stars once again on Tuesday night (March 10) at 7.
Both game will take place at the Ice For Kids Arena in Fort Frances.