Lakers to see extra referee
When the Fort Frances Lakers return to action tonight, they’ll have to keep their heads up—not only for their opponents but for an extra man wearing stripes.
After a 12-day Christmas break, the SIJHL resumes with three games on the slate, including the Lakers in Ear Falls to face the English River Miners.
“The SIJHL wishes to acknowledge the governors of each member club, along with the officiating fraternity on both sides of the border, for their co-operation in making this change a reality,” league president/commissioner Ron Whitehead said in a press release.
“With the extra referee on the ice, it is felt that the game will be much safer for the players and, therefore, will become much faster and more exciting, thus making it more enjoyable for our fans,” he noted.
The league had used a four-man crew in a number of games in the first part of the season as a preview to the full-time change.
The Lakers had their taste of what’s to come when a second referee was in place for their home games against the Thunder Bay North Stars and Dryden Ice Dogs on Dec. 16 and Dec. 20, respectively.
“I believe it is the right move for the league and the safety of the players,” said Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“Having the extra set of eyes on the ice will definitely clean up any infractions or cheap shots behind the play,” he reasoned.
“It makes a big difference in the NHL and a number of other junior leagues already use it.”
The move will benefit the SIJHL’s representative at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup this April in Wellington and, if the team advances, at the RBC Cup national Junior ‘A’ championship in Vernon, B.C.
That’s because the four-man system is now the standard at all of the Canadian Junior ‘A’ regional championships, as well as at the nationals.
“It will prepare the teams and definitely help with player safety, which is a high priority,” Whitehead said.
The Lakers (26-3-0-2) enter the New Year as the fifth-ranked team in the country, according to the latest Canadian Junior ‘A’ Hockey League top 20 rankings.
The squad—riding a four-game winning streak going into tonight’s game—leads both the North Stars (18-6-1-3) and Minnesota Iron Rangers (18-8-2-2) by 14 points for top spot in the league.
The Lakers will wrap up their home-and-home series with the Miners tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Meanwhile, the Lakers made two moves once the CJAHL roster freeze was lifted on Wednesday.
Fort Frances traded forward Torrin Grange to the Elliot Lake Bobcats of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League for a player development fee.
The 6’3,” 200-pound Grange left the team Dec. 17 without contacting the coaching staff—telling only a handful of his teammates of his decision.
The 18-year-old native of Marquette, Mich. has six goals and nine assists in 28 games with the Lakers this season while mostly playing on the third line with Miles Nolan and captain Patrick Sofer.
As well, the Lakers added defenceman Cam Jackson from the Gustavus Adolphus College Gusties based in Saint Peter, Mn.
Jackson, who turns 19 tomorrow, had 23 points in 25 regular-season games with the Lakeville South High School Cougars last year and did not see any action since joining the Gusties this fall.
“Cam came in and skated yesterday with us, and we feel he can add to our defensive corps,” noted Strachan.
“He is a strong skater, moves the puck well, and should add depth to our defence.”
If the necessary paperwork is completed in time, Strachan expected to have Jackson in the lineup this weekend.
On the injury front, the Lakers will welcome forward Colton Spicer back to the lineup tonight after missing 10 games with an upper-body injury.
The 18-year-old Fort Frances native had 14 points in 11 games before getting injured Nov. 22 against the Wisconsin Wilderness.
But forward Donovan Cousineau remains out following a knee-on-knee collision Nov. 9 against Dryden.
Strachan said Cousineau currently is getting therapy on the knee, but there’s no timeline as to his return.
In other news, Lakers’ forward Lucas DeBenedet received honourable mention for the Gongshow Gear Performer-of-the-Month award for December.
DeBenedet, who posted a league-best 19 points in seven games last month and who won the award for September/October, lost out to Daniel Delpaggio of the North Stars, who had a league-high 10 goals during his 17-point month.