The 99 Major Atom Lakers ended their regular season with two solid efforts including a once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in the Hockey Day in Canada festivities held in Stratford on the weekend. While both games ended in defeat there were plenty of positives to build on as the team gears up for their first round playoff matchup against the Brantford 99ers.
On Saturday, the setting could not have been better as the Lakers hosted the Kitchener Rangers at the historic Allman arena in Stratford for Hockey Day in Canada. The city was buzzing with the CBC in town and a vibe that spoke to all the positives hockey can be. Sightings and interactions with the likes of Don Cherry, Ron MacLean, Wendel Clark, Tim Taylor, Cassie Campbell and others were the norm as Stratford played host to this great event.
The boys were pumped and came out strong - quickly jumping to a two goal lead against the big tough Rangers team. Noah Kuno opened the scoring as he converted a rebound with Carter Collinson and Bradley Kraemer drawing the assists. Kuno quickly added his second on a nice wrap around to put the Lakers up by two with Collinson and Jacob Rooke assisting. There was no quit in the Rangers however as they answered with one of their own to end the period with the Lakers holding a 2-1 lead.
The Rangers started to roll in the second and added four more on route to a 5-2 victory. Tanner Hertel and Kuno were dangerous offensively for the Lakers while Brett Denny, Kade Landry and Evan Moorehead were great on the blueline. Goaltenders Brock Baier and Bailey Paquette both had strong performances between the pipes.
While the loss was disappointing, the boys put it behind them as they headed out for some shinny on the frozen Avon river and soaked up the Hockey Day atmosphere. Later in the day, future Laker Max Newson, looking snappy in his Cherryesque attire, became a celebrity as he appeared with Don and Ron MacLean for a live telecast of Coaches Corner from the Allman arena - capping off a memorable day and week for all.
The team got back to business on Sunday as they matched up against Alliance west regular season champions London Gold. The boys again came out strong with a total team effort and gave London all they could handle in one of the most exciting games of the season. Both teams had plenty of scoring chances before London opened the scoring with a rocket to the top corner and finished with a 1-0 lead after the first.
In the second, after much pressure, the Lakers clawed their way back to even as Mitchell Newson banged in a rebound to tie it up. Dillon Weinheimer and Ben Derrough drew the assists. London responded quickly with one of their own and then held on the rest of the way against a determined Lakers onslaught. Justin Beuermann and Ashton Stockie were tenacious at the forward spots as was Will Thibeault who narrowly missed tying the game on a great effort with just seconds left. Hunter James and Kraemer battled hard in the defensive zone while Baier and Paquette repeatedly made great saves against the dangerous London attack.
Despite the loss, it was a great effort, that if repeated should take the team a long way in the Alliance playoffs.