SIJHL Playoff Preview #2 Sioux Lookout vs #7 Fort Frances

By Gary Moskalyk

Fort Frances 12-31-6 30 pts .306 7th GF 144 GA 227 -83 PIMs 1,013 PP% 17.9 PK% 76.1 at Sioux Lookout 35-10-4 74 pts .755 2nd GF 200 GA 113 +87 PIMs 721 PP% 23.0 PK% 84.5

Head to head: FFL 1-4-2 SLB 6-1-0

Fort Frances had a 12-win season, sweeping Wisconsin on the final weekend, dropping a close pair to Thunder Bay and topping Sioux Lookout 3-1 at home in recent regular season games. Point being, they’re a 12-win team trending up.  

“In the last three months we’ve been in every hockey game,” said Tyler Miller, head coach of the Lakers. “We’ve won hockey games. we’ve lost by one goal . . . We’re the youngest team in the league. We’ve learned a lot as coaches, and we’ve learned a lot as players.”

Fort Frances started the season with a tough nine games stretch against the top teams in the league. At the end of the year they were three goals shy of scoring three goals a game. Clark Scaddan and Brady Krentz led the team in scoring with 46 points each, with 20 and 19 goals respectively. Mid-season trade acquisition Brody Lindal finished with 19 goals and 19 assists. Jack Wood had a 34-point season.

Magnus Pearson enjoyed an expanded role with his new team, collecting 23 points in 43 games–19 points in 26 games with Fort Frances.

Jack Orchard was the main goalie, racking up 29 appearances in 1,610 minutes. Orchard was 5-19-3 with a 4.47 GAA and .897 SV%. Lucas Toth had 976 minutes, with a 5-9-2 record, 4.49 GAA and .886 SV%. Gunner Paradis was 2-3-1/4.65/.893 in 361 minutes.

The Lakers topped 1,000 minutes in the bin, but they’re average minutes per game in the box kept sliding down as the season progressed.  

“Playoff hockey is a different time. You have to be ready to go, mentally, physically. It’s going to be a war,” continued Miller. “That’s what playoff hockey is about. . . We’re an upset card if we can make it happen. Everything’s not perfect, it doesn’t always go one plays two in the championship series. It could be one versus seven, two versus seven, who knows? We’re looking to play that upset card. Make it a series.”

The Lakers won one game in regulation against the Bombers, lost two more in extra time, lost one in regulation by a goal, and were beat clean in the other three. 

There are no injuries in Laker Land. Fort Frances boys Emerson Evans and Evan Kabel are back after extended stays in sick bay.

“We’re all just getting healthy here. We battled the flu the last two weeks,” said Miller. “The last of the crew is going through it right now. . . Some guys have stepped up in those situations, too.”

Miller offered his Sioux Lookout scouting report.

“They’ve got two offensive lines. They compete, They’re in second place for a reason. They have some consistency there. They have deep areas at the back. Offensively, they have some guys who can score. We understand that. We stick to our game, our systems, it’s going to be a good series.”

“We make it the toughest series of them all, because it’s the first one. We get the bounces that way. Even if we don’t get the bounces you just have to play through it. It’s playoff hockey. Anything can happen,” said Miller.

Three players were dealt from the Lakers to the Bombers: Cobe Delaney, Trever Sanderson and Josh Greene–all 20-year-olds. Ryker Watt was swapped for Brody Lindal, the Lakers acquired Magnus Pearson mid-season, and Caige Starr was added from Dryden early in the season.

The Lakers have high hopes going into hockey’s second season.

“We had a good meeting yesterday. Spirits are up. Last three weekends we’ve been playing good hockey,” said Miller. “That’s irrelevant. Big players show up for big games. Playoffs, those are big games. It’s what you do in playoffs that matters. That’s the message. Who can handle big boy hockey at playoff time. Who can be physical. Who can handle it. Let’s play playoff hockey and give it our best shot. It should be a good series.”

Sioux Lookout returns to this year’s playoff scene a little battle-hardened from last year’s first-round seven-game exit against Wisconsin.

“There were some guys on the team from last year who experienced that. I look it as a positive. I don’t want to feel that way again. It’s more of a motivator than anything,” said head coach Carson Johnston. “I did a lot of self-reflecting in the off-season as to why that happened. I worked really hard to make some decisions, do things differently that were in my control, to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I feel a lot better about things. Playoffs are playoffs. You got to compete.”

Goalie coach Jason Murphy has worked tirelessly with Jack Osmond, Matthew Spencer-Dahl and spot starter Matthew Ofukany. The team as a whole allowed 113 team goals in 49 games–2.31 per game–lowest in the SIJHL, 17 fewer than Kam River.

Rookie Spencer-Dahl was 10-4-2 with a 2.15 GAA and .938 SV% in 976 minutes. Osmond led the trio with 1,618 minutes in the cage, going 19-6-2 with a 2.22 GAA and .939 SV%. Matthew Ofukany was 6-0-0 with a 2.33 GAA and .929 SV%. Basically, an embarrassment of riches between the pipes.

Injuries to defenceman Dayvan Bull, forward Beau Bannerman, and Ty Lone are current concerns.

“We believe in our group and in our depth. We’ve been banged up all year. It’s been wild. It seems like now we’re getting better than we’ve been all year. Kind of the right timing for that,” said Johnstone. The Bombers have no one on the suspended list. It’s almost a given there wouldn’t be. Sioux Lookout was the least penalized team in the SIJHL at 721 minutes, 14.7 minutes per game. The Bombers have had 278 power opportunities versus 220 times shorthanded, a plus-58.

“For us, that’s definitely a big thing, we take pride in it. Special teams win games. We like to work hard, try to keep our nose clean and stay out of the box as best we can. They’re still young, emotional kids. You can’t stop a kid from doing what he wants to do,” said Johnstone. “We try to echo those things about being classy, not doing stupid things, making the right decisions. At the end of the day you make better decisions, give yourself a better chance to win. I think the guys have really bought in to that attitude. Those guys all year committed to it.”

Wasn’t so long ago Johnstone was a player himself. 

“Honestly, I was a mouthy little puke,” laughed Johnstone. “I knew deep down I wasn’t a tough guy.”

Owen Riffel missed eight games to injuries but led the league in scoring with 36 goals. Teamed with 31 helpers he accumulated 67 points–third in the scoring race. Blake Burke and Connor Burke finished with 56 and 53 points respectively. Blake had 19 goals, Connor 28. 

Bull missed 11 games to injury, finishing with 37 points in 38 games after leading the league in defenceman points for much of the year. Bull had 17 assists as a fixture on the Sioux Lookout powerplay. He has an estimated two weeks before joining the line-up. Cobe Delaney, Nolan Palmer, Kaden Veller and Owen Cotter had 36, 32, 32 and 31 points respectively. Defencemen Palmer and Veller were good offensive pieces along with Bull.

Jonah Smith contributed 16 goals among his 27 points.

Johnstone gave his take on the Lakers.

“Hard working hockey team. They don’t quit, ever. They like to play physical, probably a more successful brand in the playoffs than in the regular season. Just stop, go get ’em, chip it in, bump and grind. They’re a hard working team you have to respect,” he said. 

“We’re gearing up to play a tough series against those guys for sure. They’re no slouches. I don’t care how many wins they had this year. They had a tough schedule to start the season and they’ve improved all year long. They’re well-coached.”

Johnstone identified his keys to playoff success.

“Discipline to play positional hockey. We play pretty well structurally. I think if we can keep the structure going, keep pucks out of our net. We’re basically a defensively-minded team. You want your skill players to put the puck in the net,” said Johnstone. “Our focus has mainly been keeping it out of our net, capitalize on our opportunities. Keep that going, lean on each other. Do things on the ice. Ultimately it’s the team that wants it more that’s going to win.”

The second-year Bombers are looking to go further in the playoffs this year.

“It’s different feel from last year. It’s a hunger, right? I think confident and hungry, those two words. We have a little more to offer this year. We’re hoping to go a little deeper in the playoffs.”