The Fort Frances Lakers announced their season-opening roster yesterday and head coach Tyler Miller says he thinks the team will take a step forward from last year’s team which finished last in the regular season standings and won one game in the playoffs against the Dryden GM Ice Dogs.
The opening-night roster of 23 players features a good mix of home-grown players as well as players from as far away as Washington state in the US and many places in between.
Miller says the team’s identity is going to be that of hard workers.
“We’re going to come out and we’re going to work hard, that’s our goal this year,” Miller said. “Going from last year’s team to this year’s team people will see change, but we still have to compete, this isn’t something that changes with a snap of your fingers overnight. It’s going to take time, but we feel very positive with everyone we’ve selected so far.”
The team has several players playing close to home this year as well after having just three full-time players from across the Rainy River District and International Falls last season with several associate players who played intermittently as rules allowed. Some of those associate players have joined the team full-time this year.
Local players include Teagan Wrolstad, Emerson Evans, Noah McPherson, Landon Lowes, Deagan Watson, Darnell Kempf, Evan Kabel and Kale Nelson all listing Fort Frances as their hometown. The Rainy River District is also represented by Jack Wood from Rainy River and Jack Orchard from Emo.
Matt Wherly also joins the team from just over the border in International Falls.
Kempf and Wood are the only returning local players among the bunch, joining them are fellow returners Clark Scaddan, Trever Sanderson, Ian Snooks, Nolan Rideout, Ryker Watt, and Josh Greene.
Goaltending was an area that the team saw a big loss in from last season as Brenden Stroble who played the majority of games last year aged out of Junior A and has now gone on to play with the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth this season.
Miller is confident that Jack Orchard who was on the SIJHL championship-winning Kam River Walleye will step up and be a good starter for the team this year with the supporting cast of newcomers Gunner Paradis and Lucas Toth to back him up.
“We have a great goaltender, Orchard, who’s a leader on this team,” Miller said. “He brings work ethic, he’s passionate about the game. We have great goaltending one through three but we know where we’re going with that right off the bat. Everyone has a chance to show us what they’ve got between the pipes, we’re definitely confident in all three goalies.”
Miller sees positive qualities in all three he’s excited to explore going forward.
“We’re very thankful for Orchard, he has experience, he’s a leader, and he is passionate. Toth is coming in from Vancouver, he’s an 18 year-old and he played a year of junior B. We like where he’s at. Gunner Paradis came in here and he competed and he deserved a spot on the team and he’s going to keep competing for us. So we’re very thankful and fortunate for the goaltending the Lakers have had over the last few years and we’re still fortunate to have all three of them with us. So we’re good in the goaltending department for sure.”
During camp the team played two exhibition games in Dryden against the Red Lake Miners and the Ice Dogs. They lost 5-0 to the Miners and 3-2 to the Ice Dogs, though there were players in training camp that are not playing for the Lakers this year. Some were invited to tryout while others had already committed to play on other teams and were being assessed for future value to the Lakers. They played another two in Kenora against the expansion Islanders last weekend that they won, 5-4 in a shootout and 4-2 in the second game.
“We had guys in for camp, we had a really intense camp from Friday until Sunday, they were busy from seven in the morning until nine at night,” Miller said. “When we were up in Dryden we had an hour break and went back on the ice and put in a new lineup, kind of, so we were fortunate to have that many bodies.”
Miller added that they were able to see things they needed to work out of the team right away but that they were pleased to be able see those aspects they wanted to eliminate.
“That’s why we have exhibition games,” he said. “We were able to nip things in the bud right away and take care of things and let them know what we’re looking for and set the tone right off the bat that leads into our future down the road, letting them know what we’re looking for with work ethic and everything like that.”
The team is also working to have a strong showing off the ice as well. Last spring the Lakers launched their Kickstart Reading program. A teacher himself at the Fort Frances Campus of Seven Generations Education Institute, Miller developed the program with a focus on encouraging students across the district to embrace reading and develop literacy skills.
In a May news release Miller talked about the opportunity the Lakers have to be a positive presence in the community.
“Lakers players have a unique opportunity as role models in our community to give back, especially to our youth,” Miller said. “The goal of our new coaching staff is to provide as many Lakers players as possible with the opportunity to play hockey at the university or college level, should they choose to. Literacy skills play a major role in a successful post-secondary hockey career, and developing those skills starts in elementary school.”
The hope is to be able to bring the players to schools across the district and have them read to students.
Coming into their first full season as a coaching staff the hope is to The players will be putting in full days Miller said.
“Our goal is to be fighting for top three, we want to be close in points, but like I said it isn’t a snap of the fingers,” he said. “Our work this first year has been ‘let’s work on player development, let’s teach the Junior A game, and if we do things right, the standings and stuff will come. But we have to remember, where we were last year to what we’re doing this year is going to be a big change. From practices 7:00 or 8:30 in the morning to community work at 10:00 and workouts at 4:30. These players have a schedule Monday to Saturday with Sundays being a rest day for them.”
The team hasn’t named a captain for the season yet but Miler says that is a discussion taking place among the staff now.
“In our coaches morning meeting we had that discussion,” Miller said. “That’s going to be coming down the pipe. We’ve brought in some new faces and we see who’s taking leadership right now and we want to see it in the season, then we’ll make a selection from there… our leadership is going to be 23 guys in that room but we will have letters (‘C’ and ‘A’s) selected in the future hopefully in the next week or two. ”
The coaching staff feels that they have high-character players and with good character should come positive results.
“The strategy this year is we want good people, and good players and good things will happen,” Miller said.
The Lakers will have to get ready to go quickly as they hit the ice for the first regular season game on Friday in Dryden, with puck drop scheduled for 7:30 p.m. They play dryden again on Saturday and will have their home opener against Kam River next Friday with puck drop at Ice For Kids Arena at 7:30 p.m.