Defensive play our chief flaw

The Christmas break is upon us and probably much-needed as we ended play with five one-goal losses, including two in overtime.
It seems as if we still have trouble in one period, and that’s our downfall right now. We dig ourselves a hole and battle to get back with shortcomings.
Our No. 1 flaw right now is our defensive zone and being too puck focused, not picking up our men and leaving players wide open in vulnerable situations.
Overall, though, as a coach and staff, we are very proud of what our young men have accomplished. We are leaps and bounds ahead of where I saw our progression from last season.
To be sitting in fourth spot at the Christmas break, just a few points out of first place, sets us up nicely for a solid run into the playoffs and obtaining our goal of finishing in the top three after the regular season.
From a team perspective, we will look to solidify our roster by the Jan. 10 trade deadline. We’re in search of a big solid defenceman who will come in and log minutes, and bring a physical presence to our defensive core.
We still have two cards remaining and, as mentioned, we’ll search for that defenceman to help. As well, we’ll make a decision on what we will add up front to strengthen our team.
We are debating on a big physical forward or another player who will bring offence to our lineup.
To break down our team at the halfway point, our goaltending has been solid for the most part. Jameson Shortreed has continued his fine play from last season, having a great opportunity to get some experience at the national level with Team Canada West out in Penticton, B.C.
Jameson hasn’t played as much in recent games, but we surely will have to rely on his experience from last year down the stretch.
Tyler Ampe has been a present surprise for our hockey team—on many nights looking like a veteran between the pipes and staying composed when the game is on the line. With 21 games in roughly 42 days, we definitely will need both these young men to be ready on any given night.
Our defensive group, meanwhile, started off very stingy in the first part of the season and going into November, we were battling for the least number of goals allowed.
Since November, however, our team has allowed too many easy goals in our staff’s opinion. We are not focused on taking care of the area around our net, and we have too many defencemen who are too worried about points and not realizing it will be their defensive play—not points—that will help them move on to higher leagues.
When we return from the Christmas break, we have to get back to being accountable for our own end of the ice and working hard on our defence-first mentality.
Up front, we have had a nice range of players contributing throughout the season. Tyler Stevenson has led the way, goal-wise, since day one and has been followed by several other forwards helping in the offensive department.
Byron Katapaytuk, when on his game, is a force and he has proven this throughout the year, but especially when he amassed 14 points in four games earlier this month.
We definitely will rely on these two throughout the second half of the season.
Jace Baldwin has been a great addition to our squad while the play of Blake Boaz definitely has helped our team. Overall, before December when he was assaulted by a local one evening, many thought he was our best player.
He missed some games due to a concussion but slowly is getting back to where we need him on the ice. We are just thankful nothing serious happened from this unlawful event.
While I’ve spoken about our top guys up front, I believe it is our workhorses who have made this success happen. Jaret Leclair has played some good hockey throughout the year while Ryan Wildman is proving to be another good addition, and is one of our smartest hockey players on the team.
Zach McCool seems to be healthy and helping in the little ways he can, particularly with him being a presence in front of the net and drawing many penalties with his pest-like work ethic.
We feel we have four lines that bring different attributes to our team and, with a bit of tweaking, we can solidify some depth for our season.
In saying all of this, many of our forwards have had moments when they have risen up and contributed for our cause. We need the forwards mentioned, and others, to come back hungry and ready to help solidify our defensive game before the playoffs.
In related news, we will be without the services of Garrett Nystedt for a few weeks. We still are waiting to hear the final diagnosis on his lower body injury, but it is looking at the minimum four weeks before he’ll be back in the lineup.
He will remain back in Sault Ste. Marie until then to get the proper care for his injury.
We will await his recovery and hope he can return sooner than later.
• • •
The first half hasn’t just been successful on the ice.
The Lakers’ team has been involved in several different functions to help the community. Many of these have been reported in the Fort Frances Times and West End Weekly, and we thank both these papers for their continued help.
We also have had success at Robert Moore School with our “adopt-a-school” program and we thank them for their continued support.
Meanwhle, our fan support has been the best in the SIJHL. We average the most fans in the league at around 350 per game.
We thank the community for their support. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to operate.
• • •
The squad will resume practice this Monday (Dec. 27), then get ready quickly for an exhibition showdown against the local senior ‘AAA’ Thunderhawks next Tuesday (Dec. 28) at 6:45 p.m.
We then will to travel to Duluth for a game on New Years Eve.
Our game originally scheduled for Jan. 1 in Spooner has been moved to Jan. 23 due to the Wisconsin Badgers being in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Our next homestand will be Friday, Jan. 7 against Duluth and Jan. 8 verus Dryden. Both games start at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.

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