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Lions open home stand with Lake Forest

Finlandia defenseman Chris Beyer looks to make a pass during a game earlier this season at the Houghton County Arena in Hancock. (Photo courtesy of Finlandia University)

HANCOCK — With a week off after a tough series at No. 4 St. Norbert, the Finlandia Lions men’s hockey team is eager to return to action this weekend in a series against the Lake Forest Foresters.

Part of the reason the Lions are excited to get back to work is that they should enter the weekend healthy, something they weren’t when they took on the Green Knights and lost 7-0 and 3-1.

“The flu went through our team,” said coach Joe Burcar. :“So we went to St. Norbert with seven less players. We still dressed two goalies, six (defensemen), 12 forwards, but there were no substitutions. The guys that we had weren’t 100%. And I’m not gonna say everybody, because it’s not an excuse, but we took the beating.”

After the loss on Friday, Burcar and his staff sat down with groups of players, and with individuals, trying to figure out what adjustments could be made in a short turnaround time.

“We spent a lot of time together, not only with breakfast, but we had meetings,” he said. “We did film, and it was such a turning point.”

The team responded Saturday night with its best effort of the season.

“In the first half of the game, we had 10 quality scoring chances, I mean point blank, 1-on-1 with the goalie, and we didn’t score,” Burcar said. “That didn’t stop in the third. We finally scored on the power play.

“That’s the standard that we’ve been looking for. That’s how we need to play the game.”

It helped that sophomore goaltender Dakota Meyer had his best weekend of the season as well.

“He wasn’t 100%,” said Burcar. “But, I think we as a team played better in front of him.”

The lone Lions goal on the weekend came off the stick of sophomore forward Max Messier, who was moved to center as junior center P.J. Donnelly missed the series due to illness.

“We moved Max from wing to center,” Burcar said. “He was fantastic all weekend on draws, did well in the defensive zone. We’re going to keep him there this week.

“For him to get that goal, and it was a nice goal, he made a good decision on a play. He had the look that we’ve been talking about. So, it was really important to get him going.”

Scouting the Foresters

This weekend, the Lions host the Foresters, who come into the weekend after dropping a pair of games to Bethel. The Foresters are 3-5-3 overall and 0-2-2 in NCHA play this season. They have one quality win in a 7-0 drubbing of No. 14 Aurora, but have been swept by Milwaukee School of Engineering and Bethel in November.

The Foresters graduated a large class of seniors, so they are still looking for players to take the reins. Still, Burcar is impressed with the job that Foresters coach Sean O’Malley is doing.

“They lost a big senior class last year, you know, forwards, (defense), and a goalie,” he said. “But, at the same time, he’s returning a good, good veteran group. He brought in a quality freshman class.”

Freshman Colin Bella leads the team in goals (7) and game-tying goals (2), and is tied for the team lead in points (9) in 11 games. Senior David Cohen is also off to a good start with five goals and nine points in 11 games. Freshman Justin Ross is also off to a strong start to his collegiate career with four goals and eight points.

In goal, freshman Dylan Kruss is getting every opportunity to take control of things. In six appearances, all starts, he is 1-3-2 with a 2.92 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.

Game times

The Lions and Foresters will face off on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Houghton County Arena. Sunday’s game is set for 2 p.m.

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