The Fort Frances Lakers are finally righting the ship financially but aren’t exactly pleased with the lack of interest locally in the junior ‘A’ hockey franchise.
That was the message delivered by Lakers’ president Milt Strachan at their annual general meeting held last Monday night (May 27) at the Super 8 Motel.
Last Monday’s meeting was poorly attended, which didn’t sit right with Strachan.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this is disappointing,” he remarked.
“I was hoping for better turnout. [It was] well advertised on social media, we used everything that we wanted to use to try to get the word out more and this is what we get for it.
“I don’t know what to say about that,” he conceded. “It’s unfortunate because there are more people and they don’t help out.”
But for those who did attend the meeting, Strachan stressed how appreciative he was of their efforts.
“Anyway, on that note I’d like to thank everybody in this room because everybody in this room does help out,” he lauded.
“Especially the board members. This has been a long, hard grind to get to where we are, though, and there’s a lot of people in this room who deserve a lot of credit for there being [the] Fort Frances Lakers.
“I can’t say enough for how much I know you [all] have done and how much it’s appreciated,” he stressed.
Financial records presented at the meeting revealed that the team had $5,515.99 in their Canadian bank account and $30.93 in their U.S. one, with a $700 cheque from Sunset Country Ford still to deposit while the bills to be paid totalled just $2,533.67.
That’s a far cry from where things sat at this time two years ago, when the franchise was running a deficit of $54,725.78.
But despite now being better off financially, Strachan noted that he still is concerned about what the future will hold for the Lakers because of the lower number of people helping to keep the team afloat.
“I worry about the future of the team because of our numbers,” he conceded.
“I get anxiety sometimes just thinking about it and we’re here because we love it, we want the team to be here and I hope we can keep it around.
“I got another year left in this term [as president] and honestly I don’t know, I guess we’ll see beyond that. Somebody’s got to help out somewhere along the line for this [the franchise] to survive,” Strachan stressed.
“It’s too much for us, it’s too much to ask for this small group of people to continue to carry such a big load.”
Strachan noted that a change in approach to getting more people on board is needed and that it’s vital to get more help for the Lakers’ franchise to survive.
“A lot of people don’t want to be on a [committee] board and maybe they think coming to a meeting like this gets them on [it] and sometimes with the numbers that show up to ours, it does unfortunately,” he said.
“I think we have to find a way to get people to participate in this or it’s [the team] just not gonna be able to stick around.
“On a good note, we’ve pecked away for years and we finally have our head above the water,” he noted, referring to where the team’s finances currently sit.
“Our bills are paid, we have a bit of money in the bank to start off [next] season, and other than a couple of years after the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, it’s been unheard of,” he enthused.
“So we did that and I think we can do better,” he stressed. “It’s a great sign, it’s surprising because I don’t know what we’ve done so much different but we’ve been frugal, I think,” he added.
“We’ve never spent money unwisely anyway,” Strachan stressed. “But I think we’ve got it down to where we know what we can do and what we can’t do.”
Strachan also believes that there still is money out there on the table for the franchise to tap into. One such area is when it comes to sponsorship.
“One area I would like to see new faces for is sponsorship,” he noted.
“There’s untapped money out there, people who could help us. It might be small money, but small money adds up,” he reasoned.
“Most of our sponsors are small money anyway and I think there’s a lot that we just don’t get to. Still, after all this time, I think there’s still more out there.
“But we’ll work on that,” he vowed.
As for the past season, Strachan noted that while it was a great year for the team financially, the same couldn’t be said for the on-ice product.
The Lakers finished the 2018-19 season in fifth place in the six-team SIJHL with a 18-35-2-1 record before being swept in the best-of-five quarter-final playoff series by the rival fourth-place Dryden GM Ice Dogs.
“But nonetheless, we had a team to watch and the boys did what they could,” Strachan reasoned.
“The bottom line is that we just weren’t as good as a few teams in the league, that’s all there was to it.
“We gotta do what we can to address that,” he stressed. “We’re working on some help to get some players in and we probably gotta spend a little bit of money to get a few more quality guys, especially at the key times, the [trade] deadline times.
“We haven’t been competitive at those times for the last few years and I think we have to be prepared to add to our team what it takes to be part of the mix going into the playoffs,” he reasoned.
“And that’s another thing too about our finances, another round of playoffs where we’re against an opponent where if we have a chance to win, it puts probably another–from in the past–anywhere from 10-20 thousand dollars in our bank account.
“We can’t actually budget that because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the playoffs,” Strachan conceded. “But assuming that we’re gonna be a competitive team most of the time, that’s good to know.”
Strachan also revealed that Fort Frances can host the Dudley-Hewitt Cup in two years, which could reap huge financial benefits for the franchise much like it did back in 2015.
“It puts a little jump into my step I know, we can host the Dudley-Hewitt Cup in two years. Thunder Bay is supposed to host it this season but that’s still up in the air,” he noted.
“I don’t think we can [host it] because it’s almost impossible for us to put together a team that could compete for it. If you host, you might as well try to win it in my opinion,” he reasoned.
“But the next one is two years away because it goes to the north and then back here again, and I’m pretty sure we’re next in line [to host], if that makes anybody feel happier about what we’re doing.
“We know how successful the Dudley-Hewitt was for us and it would be nice to have another one on better terms because I think knowing ahead of time what we can do with it financially for the team, we could utilize a little bit of that to make a better run, which would be great for franchise, great for our league,” he added.
“We need to put our league on the map.”
Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan also gave his thoughts on last season and the off-season plans he has for the team.
“I’d like to thank everybody too for, obviously, doing everything they do to make it possible for the team to be here and giving us a chance to perform on the ice and play for you,” he remarked.
“I’ve kind of taken the approach to last season as it’s over with,” he chuckled.
“Now looking back, I think we need to be positive of the organization and the team, what we’re capable of doing here. I’m learning from it, I’m looking forward to next year.
“I think we’ve recruited hard the last two months and we’ve talked to a lot of players and have offers out there,” he revealed.
“No commitments yet, but offers [are out there] for a lot of good players that, I guess, have other opportunities as well.”
Wayne Strachan noted that he has analyzed a lot of areas in which he, and the team, can improve.
“Those are what we’re trying to work towards, I guess, to start the season,” he remarked.
“Even if it doesn’t happen right away, we’ll hopefully be able to improve throughout the year and be in good shape heading into the playoffs.
“Obviously the ‘Dudley’ is in the league, so it’ll definitely be nice to compete to try to get back there,” he added.
Wayne Strachan also noted that as a board they’ve discussed some things earlier in regards to ways that they could make the conditions of the dressing room better heading into next season.
“We’ve approached the Memorial Sports Centre and they’ve also looked at it gave it their consent that it definitely does need some room, and whatnot, or some repairs,” he said.
“Hopefully that’s done throughout the summer here.”
The Lakers will be holding a tryout camp July 26-28 at Bronco Arena in International Falls and Wayne Strachan noted that the team presently is looking for an assistant coach that could possibly come in and help.
“We’re recruiting two goalies, we’re gonna have to add five or six ‘D’ and at least seven or eight forwards at this time for next year’s team,” he revealed.
“Again, our name’s out there. We’ve been around, whether it’s been myself or guys that work for us all over, and hopefully we can approach them [the players] to come down and play.
“I guess we can return zero goalies, two defencemen, and eight forwards,” Wayne Strachan added.
“But again, we’re looking to improve our roster so there are jobs that are definitely available for the taking.”
In related news, the team confirmed that the annual Bob Mainville Memorial golf tournament will be held July 13 at Heron Landing Golf Course.
They will be accepting a total of 40 teams at a cost of $400 per team and the tourney will start at 10 a.m.
The combined team handicap will be 40, with one member on the team needing to be under a 7.
Entry includes one cart per team and a meal. Cash prizes will be determined by the number of entries and there will be a draw prize for whoever is closest to the pin.
To sign up for the tourney, call the Heron Landing pro shop at 274-5678 or by contacting Wayne Strachan at 274-4383 or via cell at 275-7798.
You can also reach Strachan via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org