Lakers hoping for bounce-back year

Jamie Mountain

The goal is simply this: win another SIJHL championship.
That’s the mindset of the Fort Frances Lakers ahead of their annual three-day training camp that opens tomorrow at the Ice For Kids Arena.
After winning three-straight Bill Salonen Cup titles, the Lakers finished in fifth place the last two seasons and were ousted in the semi-finals both times by the Dryden GM Ice Dogs.
Head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan, and his coaching staff, will be looking to establish a winning culture right from the outset at camp.
“[Our goal is to] win game one, develop into being good people on and off the ice, and win the SIJHL championship,” he said of the upcoming season, adding that things he and the coaching staff will be looking to establish early on in camp are “Hard work, character and being accountable on and off the ice.”
The Lakers will have 32 players at this year’s camp, many of them being homegrown talent that were signed to the club during the offseason.
The local contingent includes brothers Brett and Nick Hahkala, Cole Allan, Noah Loveday, Colton Bodnar, James Gushulak, Matt Booth, Jake Clendenning, Kaleb Bruyere, and Kendyn Faragher.
“We are at a place where we are fortunate to have the talent level to bring in a big group of locals,” enthused Strachan.
“If they are willing to commit themselves to being dedicated, working at the level we need them to, and putting the time in to improve on and off the ice as individuals and players, then it gives us the opportunity to have success.”
Strachan added that a benefit of having local players is that they know how to win and come from successful past teams.
“What they will have to realize is that now it is at a tougher level and the commitment level is huge,” he stressed.
“If they grasp that concept and buy into the process and goals, good things will happen for their development and for our team.”
On paper, Strachan feels as though his squad has improved immensely from last season and believes they now have good depth.
“Up front, we have good speed, skill, and physical play,” he remarked.
“On our back end, we can return four guys and have added the right mix to compliment them.
“I believe we have improved our back end and I’m intrigued to see how we look,” he added.
The Lakers last Thursday announced the signing of defenceman Dane Bateman from the Fort St. John Huskies (NWJHL) to also help with their defensive efforts.
Bateman, a Penticton, B.C. native, scored twice and added 13 assists across two seasons with the Huskies.
He also chipped in with three helpers in 16 playoff games.
“Dane is a smooth-skating defenceman that will add offence to our lineup,” said Strachan. “He has good size and reads the ice well.
“He has a strong shot from the point and his numbers from last season do not reflect the type of player he can be for a hockey team,” he stressed.
“We are excited to get Dane here as a part of our program as we look to improve on our last two seasons. Welcome aboard, Dane!”
While he is pleased with what he sees on both offence and defence, Strachan admitted some questions still remain in goal.
“The net is still a bit of a mystery,” he conceded.
“Matt Booth is signed and we will have some hopefuls looking to vie for the other position.
“The net is maybe an area that isn’t solidified until [after] the pre-season process.”
Strachan is hopeful that all players attending this week’s camp will showcase exactly what they can bring to the squad and that they will show they can work hard.
“Through camp I would just like to see what each and every player can bring to the team,” he said.
“Let them define their role, so to speak.
“Early on, we will work on team building, establishing work ethic, the style of play we want to see, and our identity as a team,” Strachan concluded.