Steven Reese was a one-man Western Mustangs wrecking crew on Saturday night.
The Dorchester, Ont. native netted a hat trick, accounting for all three Western goals as the Mustangs salvaged a weekend sweep at Fort William Gardens, handing the Lakehead Thunderwolves just their second regulation loss of the campaign.
Reese scored a pair of power play goals within the first three minutes of the opening puck drop, adding his third late in the third, the goal the proved to be the game-winner in the 3-2 triumph.
“I’ve been struggling to kind of find the net the last couple of games. So I guess once I got the first one, the floodgates opened up. I was just getting good bounces out there and they were going in for me,” Reese said.
The fast start helped, after dropping a 3-2 decision a night earlier.
“Yeah, we’ve been struggling on the power play so far. The coaches got together and they changed it up a little bit and obviously it worked out,” said Reese, a one-time teammate of NHL sniper Steven Stamkos with the Sarnia Sting.
“We got a 2-0 lead off the power play really quick, so it was good.”
It was also a great place to snap an uncharacteristic three-game losing streak for the Mustangs (3-3-0), who entered play under .500 for the first time in recent memory.
“Coming down here it’s always tough with the fans. We knew we had to come out hard and this team, they were battling the entire way and we just snuck out a win there.”
Despite the loss, Thunderwolves goalie Alex Dupuis, who stopped 31 Western shots, several from point-blank range that kept Lakehead in the contest until the final whistle blew, said he’s taking nothing but positives from the weekend.
“It was a good stepping stone for us. We proved to ourselves we can play with them, and that’s the main goal,” Dupuis said.
He recognized, however, the penalty situation has to improve or the Wolves (5-2-1) will find themselves in trouble going forward.
“I thought we came off to a really slow start and I guess we just weren’t focused. Unfortunately they had two really good scoring chances and they got past me. But after that I thought we settled down and in the second period and third period we played pretty well.”
Down 2-0 after one, rookie Mike MacDonald got the Wolves on the board at the 10:55 mark of the second, one-timing a beautiful cross-crease pass from Thomas Frazee that Western goalie Josh Unice had no chance to stop.
Western, who out-shot the Wolves 34-22, had great chances to start the third. Thunder Bay’s Zach Harnden was stopped in alone on Dupuis, then shortly afterward Daniel Erlich was halted on a one-timer, after LU forward Matt Caria broke up a three-one-one.
Harnden fed Reese for his third goal of the night at 12:02 of the final stanza, but Mike Hammond pulled Lakehead to within a goal again with just under five minutes to go in regulation. Frazee launched a bullet at Unice in the final couple of minutes, but the Mustangs netminder was up to the task.
Wolves interim coach Mike Busniuk said his team played hard both nights, which is all he can ask for.
“Hockey’s a funny game. A bounce one way, a bounce the other, one game we win 3-2, the next game we lose 3-2. You can’t really worry about the losses. You learn from them, obviously. We have a bunch of things we have to work on we did the second game and didn’t do in the first,” Busniuk said.
One of the things he plans to preach in practice this week is putting the puck on net.
Do the math, Busniuk, a teacher by trade, said. He’d like to see his troops get 30 to 40 shots a night, which based on save percentages, should mean three or four goals a game.
“Shoot the puck. We had it five or six times in front of the net where guys had a great shot and they pass it off. In the last three or four days of practice we’ve been telling them to shoot, shoot, shoot. The last two games we’ve been telling them to shoot.”
Claw marks: Brennan Menard returned to the lineup for Lakehead, with Carson Dubchak sitting this one out ... Busniuk said he's not sure when injured defender Mitch Fillman (concussion) will return to the lineup, but said he is looking better. Fellow blue-liner Jay Gilbert has resumed skating ... Lakehead hits the road next weekend for the nation's capital and a date with the Carleton Ravens.
Scoring: 1. Western, Reese 2 (Erlich, Clarke) 1:45 pp. 2. Western, Reese 2 (Erlich, Marantz) 2:56 pp. Penalties: Frazee LAK (roughing) 1:31, Carrick LAK (hooking) 2:11, McKee WES (tripping) 5:00, Frazee LAK (interference) 12:32, Sergerie LAK (cross checking), Marantz WES (unsportsmanlike conduct) 17:27, Furlong WES (cross checking) 18:24.
Scoring: 3. Lakehead, MacDonald 2 (Frazee) 10:55. Penalties: Erlich WES (high sticking) 12:46, Stoykewych WES (tripping) 14:41, Menard LAK (roughing), Erlich WES (roughing after the whistle) 18:07.
Scoring: 3. Western, Reese 3 (Harnden, Marantz) 12:02. 4. Lakehead, Hammond (Frazee) 16:08. Penalties: None.
GAME DATA – SOG – Western 15-10-9-34, Lakehead 9-4-9-22; Power plays (goals-chances) – Western (2-3), Lakehead (0-4); Goaltenders – Western: Josh Unice, Lakehead: Alex Dupuis; A: 3,320.
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