By the time the Fort Frances Jr. Sabres’ first game was in the books, the only guys in the Ice for Kids Arena looked like the rival Bulldogs who had just been vanquished 5-1.
The arena full of fans had their town represented in the SIJHL once more, and for at least a day they were undefeated and atop the league standings.
For all the unfamiliar faces on the ice (and there were many), three of the starting six Sabres were born and bred here in Fort Frances, including goalie Ryan Faragher.
Faragher forever will hold the distinction of being the only Sabres’ player to spend all 60 minutes of their first game on the ice. And while he didn’t think his play was anything to brag about (“Decent, anyways. I can play better,” he said), he doesn’t mince words when asked if he enjoyed winning this first one in front of his friends and family.
“Yeah, I love that. I love that,” he remarked. “That’s the one reason I wanted to stay here this year. Getting the first win of the year, I know we’ll get the fan support.”
Sabres’ head coach Wayne Strachan—another local product—did Faragher one better, saying the town’s support is unquestionable.
“Fort’s a hockey town, and the support is always there,” he stressed. “From right when I played high school, and even when my brother played, the fans in the stands now are mostly the same fans.”
That kind of support is one of his big motivations. He remembers those fans now watching him in the stands coaching the home team, and wants to pay the community back for giving him the necessary leg up to start his hockey career.
“That’s what I enjoy. I enjoy watching hockey and giving back,” Strachan said. “In my point of view, that’s the way I’d like it to be . . . helping young players go as far as they can go in hockey, and in life.”
Faragher and Strachan weren’t the only locals to play a big role in the squad’s first victory. Forward Mitch Cain made his mark as the first multiple goal-scorer in franchise history while Will Morrisseau and Shaun Egan each notched an assist as they racked up 17 and 14 minutes in the box, respectively (dubious accomplishments perhaps, but numbers they could both likely eclipse this season).
And for those with the team who are new to Fort Frances, even they can share in the love.
“Three weeks ago, we came together as strangers,” Faragher said. “Right about now, we’re starting to be a full team. We’re starting to be a team in the dressing room. We’re starting to be a family.”
Strachan said he’s happy to see the team he’s built from scratch coming together. “It’s definitely exciting. . . it’s coming, they’re a good bunch of players. They’ve got character. . . .
“I guess it’s exciting for me to see how the younger guys are following and listening to the older players,” he added.
The rough times will come for the team, as they do anywhere in sports, and no fan can be on top of the world for too long.
But for now, Fort Frances and the Jr. Sabres are making for a perfect marriage and everyone’s celebrating the honeymoon.
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