FORT FRANCES, Ont. – A goal by Mason Meyer seconds after a close play at the blueline turned out to be the difference as the Fort Frances Lakers rallied to edge the Minnesota Iron Rangers 3-2 Wednesday evening in game 7 of the Superior International Junior Hockey League Bill Salonen Cup final in front of a capacity crowd at Ice for Kids Arena.
In victory the Lakers stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit to win their final three games of the best-of-seven championship to take it 4-3 overall against a valiant Iron Rangers’ side.
Fort Frances now moves on to represent the league at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canada Jr. A championship April 29 through May 3 in Wellington, Ont.
Despite the Lakers holding a 15-7 edge in the shots on goal department in the opening 20 minutes, the session was scoreless with Minnesota’s Alex Reichle and Jordan Cartney of Fort Frances keeping the opposing shooters off the score sheet.
Fort Frances would open the scoring three minutes into the middle session as Bryce Lipinski snapped one past Reichle from the left face-off circle to put the home side in front.
Minnesota answered right back taking advantage of a Lakers penalty as Evan Erickson scored a similar type tally as Lipinski’s to tie it at 5:42, whipping one home from the left side.
The Iron Rangers took the lead later in the period as Fort Frances failed to clear the zone on a couple of opportunities, which eventually led to Jay Routheau being left alone in front where he made no mistake wiring one over a sprawled Cartney at 16:15.
The Lakers knotted the score early in the third on a quick break out which eventually saw Lucas Debenedet saucer a pass to a streaking Lyndon Lipinski who tucked a deke in between Recihle’s left pad and the post at 1:43.
Then with just over seven minutes remaining in regulation the turning point in the contest came on what would turn out to be a controversial game-winning goal.
As a Minnesota defender lobbed the puck high from his own zone in an effort to clear it, Meyer leapt up from his skates near the blueline and knocked the puck down to himself, then as it was ruled to be onside by the linesman, the Lakers’ forward proceeded to skate in and wrist a shot by Reichle for the eventual series deciding marker.
Fort Frances pressed for some insurance, but were stymied, as they were much of the series, by the Minnesota netminder as he kept his side in it right until the end.
The Iron Rangers pulled Reichle late in an effort to produce the tying tally, but time ran out before they could do so to give the Lakers their first SIJHL title in franchise history and the second for a Fort Frances-based side in the 13-year history of the league.
Final shots on goal were 37-26 in favour of the Lakers with Cartney picking up the win and Recihle the hard-luck defeat.
Joining Fort Frances at the DHC will be the Ontario Junior Hockey League Buckland Cup champion Toronto Lakeshore Patriots, the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, who came away victorious in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League as well as the host Wellington Dukes.
SIJHL finals for the Bill Salonen Cup
No. 1 Fort Frances Lakers vs. No. 3 Minnesota Iron Rangers
Lakers win best-of-seven series 4-3
Game 1: Fort Frances 1 Minnesota 0 (2 OT)
Game 2: Minnesota 3 Fort Frances 2
Game 3: Minnesota 5 Fort Frances 4 (2 OT)
Game 4: Minnesota 3 Fort Frances Lakers 0
Game 5: Fort Frances 2 Minnesota 0
Game 6: Fort Frances 4 Minnesota 3 (OT)
Game 7: Fort Frances 3 Minnesota 2