Lakers just learning how to win

Fort Frances Lakers’ head coach Wayne Strachan will reiterate one thing in nearly every post-game interview: the number of minutes his team “played.”
Yeah, regulation games are 60 minutes in length, or slightly more with overtime, but his point has more to do with the amount the Lakers played according to the team’s system.
In the past three home games, that number isn’t as high as the Lakers would like it.
Not coincidentally, the Lakers won only one of those three games—losing to both Dryden and Sioux Lookout during the final week of October before withstanding a late charge by Duluth to hang on to a 5-4 win here Friday night.
After the two losses, there were some unhappy rumblings.
The first thing Strachan said after the 3-1 loss to Dryden was that he was “utterly embarrassed” by the team’s performance. And some comments from others in the bowels of the Memorial Sports Centre after the overtime loss to Sioux Lookout suggested the game was one of the worst performances in the Lakers’ short history.
Whoa, whoa, whoa.
There were some nasty nights at the Ice For Kids Arena during the growing pains of last season, including a seven-goal second period in an 8-5 loss to the now-defunct K&A, who won’t be mistaken for the Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s anytime soon.
Even just talking about the team around the office, some good points were raised.
There will be off nights, sometimes at an individual level and at a team level. Sometimes it’s just hard to get motivated for the task at hand, and that’s bound to happen occasionally.
It’s just human nature.
Not being too far removed from the age that some of these players are at, I can sort of understand the mind of a 19- or a 20-year-old in this day and age. Perhaps the mind of an elite athlete at that age isn’t as easy to grasp, but most 19- and 20-year-olds aren’t going to have the gusto to give their all for every shift of a 56-game season.
It’s just not going to happen.
Again, that’s in no way meant as a swipe­—it’s likely something the vast majority of us have gone through ourselves.
Perhaps cracking the CJHL’s top 20 ranking has caused a little bit too much excitement at this point in the season, or maybe some individual marks or honours are weighing on some minds.
Again, that’s to be expected. I know that if I were 19 or 20, and recognized from a large pool that I was one of the best at what I loved doing, I’d be dumbstruck for a few days, too.
Winning and being successful together is a relatively new thing for much of this group, and it’s something that they’re figuring out right now.
It’s certainly better to try to get a handle on everything now than to be mediocre for much of the season and then become world-beaters with 10 games to go in the year. In come the honours, and perhaps some overconfidence, and then, boom, playoff flame-out.
It’s one thing to try to be stoic in the face of high compliments, and it’s another to do it. These players aren’t superhuman—give them time.
Those are some of the nice by-products of fine results, but with fine results come expectations, and it seems the bar is being set ever higher.
Was the loss to Sioux Lookout among the worst losses in the franchise’s short history? Objectively, probably not.
Subjectively, with higher expectations, there’s a little more wiggle room.
And still Strachan, who, to his credit, has been setting the high bar for the team, even backed off a little bit after Friday’s win over Duluth, acknowledging that the Lakers are further ahead of schedule than expected.
At the one-third point of the season (it feels weird saying that in November, but I digress), the Lakers have done a pretty good job getting things together so far. They have the SIJHL’s top scorer in Tyler Stevenson, top-scoring defenceman in Phil Jennrich, and the top power-play and penalty-kill units.
It’s encouraging that 17 different players have notched a goal in a Laker uniform this year, but the team undoubtedly is looking for a little more production from its depth players given 11 of those players have two goals or fewer.
As dominant as Stevenson has been offensively, with an eye-popping 19 goals heading into last night’s game here against the league-leading Wisconsin Wilderness, it’ll be harder for the Lakers to remain successful if he’s relied on for nearly one-third of their goal production.
Of course, the Lakers hope to solve that conundrum not by seeing Stevenson’s pace drop off, but by having a few others netting goals at an increased rate.
Last night’s test against the Wilderness (the outcome of which wasn’t known by press time) certainly would be a gauge of whether the Lakers were back up to speed.
• • •
Of interest to Lakers’ fans is that the Duluth Clydesdales, whom the squad will face in Duluth four more times this season, live stream all home games, and most of their away games, at www.duluthclydesdales.com
For a free broadcast, the Clydesdales do a fine job. The camera is able to follow the play pretty well, and the play-by-play is fairly well-informed.
The first time I checked out the broadcast, when the Lakers were playing Duluth at the SIJHL “Showcase” in Spooner, Wis. last month, the audio was delayed several seconds but those issues seemed to be patched up at a recent game in Duluth.
It’d be neat to see if any community viewings of these broadcasts come about, whether in one of the meeting rooms at the Memorial Sports Centre, perhaps, or even if one of the local watering holes is able to run a laptop through one of their televisions and show the game that way.
The Lakers currently lead the SIJHL in attendance with nearly 400 fans per game, but it’d be cool to see these diehards get tossed a bone and easily keep up with their team on the road, as well.

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