The Fort Frances Lakers resumed practice today after an extended Christmas break that lasted longer than anyone expected when they left in December. There are a few new faces around the rink as well.
The Lakers will see game action for the first time since Dec. 18 on Friday when they head south for a weekend set against the Wisconsin Lumberjacks in Spooner, WI., the Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL) announced on Friday.
“The Superior International Junior Hockey League today announces that its Board of Governors has unanimously approved a return-to-play plan that will see regular season games resume on Friday, February 4, 2022,” the announcement said.
The return to play schedule includes the Lakers series against the Lumberjacks, the Thunder Bay North Stars play the Kam River Fighting Walleye on Friday and Walleye play the Dryden GM Ice Dogs on Saturday.
As the Lakers hit the ice today they did so under the leadership of a new head coach. Ron MacKinnon has taken over the reins of the club with the departure of Dave Allison for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the NAHL in Alaska.
MacKinnon, an assistant coach under Allison, takes the helm of a team with a league-worst 2-19 record. MacKinnon feels the team will handle the changes and adapt well.
“We’re not going to change a lot,” MacKinnon said of the systems put in place by Allison. “We’re going to continue on with and add to it in places where we feel we need to improve. We’re confident with what’s in place and we’re going to build on it.”
The Lakers team that heads down to Wisconsin on the weekend looks quite different from the team that last played at home on Dec. 11.
Team Captain Nakoda Thunderchief and defensemen Matty Harrold and Brandon Rosetti were traded, with seven new players joining the team at the deadline. Thunderchief had 3 goals in 10 games played so far this season, missing several games with injury.
The players added to the team are 20 year-old defenseman Josh Robinson from the Lakefield Chiefs (Provincial Junior Hockey League), 19 year-old forward Dawson Lampi from the Thunder Bay North Stars, 19 year-old forward Ian Kimble and 19 year-old defenceman Rylen Kleist, 19 year-old forward Tyson Mallet, 19 year-old forward Rylin Philpott-Way, and 20 year-old defenceman Kaden Whaley from the Red Lake Miners. Some players were acquired in exchange for player development fees rather than player-for-player trades. The Lakers also signed 18 year-old Jack Hale who has played games with the Niagara Falls Canucks of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League and the U18 Southern Tier Admirals this year.
With the loss of senior players MacKinnon says there is a bit of a gap in the locker room but he believes others will step up to fill in the gaps.
“Not a shot against Nakoda or Matty, they were both leaders,” MacKinnon said, “But we do have other leaders in our room. And I’m confident they’ll continue on and it will produce new leaders.”
MacKinnon is not alone behind the bench. The Lakers have also brought on Tyler Miller as an assistant coach and MacKinnon is looking forward to what he brings to the team.
“Tyler played hockey at a (NCAA) Division Three level, he’s very knowledgeable of hockey,” MacKinnon said. “He’s got a great hockey background, playing and coaching. He’s coached both AA and AAA in the region here. He brings a lot of excitement. He’s a lot like me. We like to communicate with the players, and be a buddy, be their friend. Help them develop their hockey skills, continue on their hockey journey, and not only as hockey players but as young men.”
Another thing MacKinnon mentioned as the Lakers prepare to start the season back up is that the team appreciates their billets, and they always need to add more.
“The Lakers association really appreciates the people that are billeting our players,” MacKinnon said. “They’re opening their doors and their homes, and with COVID and everything else they’re taking a risk. So they’re very important to us. Without them we couldn’t have players here because they’d have nowhere to live. Our billet coordinator is always looking for more billets, if people would consider opening their doors to our players we’d really appreciate it.”
MacKinnon added that there was one player who plays with the team who was living with his parents but his parents have recently moved with this player and other new ones joining the team there is a need for additional billets.