Leclair was a tough customer

It’s a stereotypical cliché but the statement that the sporting world is a small one is quite true, especially when it comes to those who are involved or associated with junior hockey.
So when the news came out late Sunday night that former Fort Frances Lakers’ forward Jaret Leclair had been killed in a car accident, the outpouring on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter was pretty much instant.
From former Laker and Fort Frances native Jordan Larson saying he will be dedicating his season with the Pembroke Lumber Kings to him to former Dryden Ice Dogs’ captain Ian Schachte calling his one-time rival a “worthy opponent,” it was easy to see the impact the 20-year-old from Pic River First Nation had on so many.
But nowhere will his loss be felt more in the hockey world than in the locker-room of the Lakers, where Leclair suited up for the last three seasons in the SIJHL, registering 33 goals and 43 assists in 124 games.
“At this time, we are all still trying to grasp the fact that this has happened,” said Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“Jaret was at our game Friday [night] in Thunder Bay and it is still hard to believe that he is gone now.
“We will definitely be honouring Jaret, and we will make an announcement on that when all of the plans are in order for what we will decide to do as an organization,” Strachan added.
Having been a member of the team since it was formed from the ashes of the Fort Frances Jr. Sabres in 2009, Leclair made his impact on the ice in a number of ways during his time here.
Offensively, Leclair had a number of highlight-reel goals and assists over the last three years, especially during last year’s run to the SIJHL final, when he posted a career best 40 points in 40 games.
One of the games that stands out in my mind was a 10-3 romp back in February against the Iron Range Ironheads, when Leclair and his linemates Henry Gutierrez and Davis Smith combined for 16 points.
But above all else, Leclair probably was best known for his physical play, which many of opponents found out about first-hand.
While his 5’11” and 183-pound frame might not be something that would strike fear into many, he would play like someone who was transplanted from the “Original Six” era on numerous occasions.
In many of the remembrances from former and current Lakers, Leclair was noted for the fact he would stand up for his teammates at all costs—even if it meant he had to spend some time in the stands after being suspended.
In thinking over the many games I got to watch Leclair take part in at the Ice For Kids Arena during the last year-and-a-half of covering the Lakers, I can’t even remember any fights that he lost, or a single time that he was knocked down in any fisticuffs.
As a reporter, I obviously won’t have as many of the close memories his teammates do of his time here in Fort Frances. But during our occasional chats following games or in the lead-up to any playoff series, Leclair always took the time to answer any questions I had about how the team was doing.
In addition to always providing a good quote, Leclair always seemed to be in a pretty good mood once he exited the locker-room. And it was sometimes easy to make him laugh during an interview, which is something defenceman Brandon Fehd would do on many occasions.
Although his junior hockey days were over, Leclair, like anyone else who plays for any junior hockey team in this country, forever will be a member of the Lakers’ family and his impact will never be forgotten.