After a highly competitive three day training camp, the Fort Frances Lakers have cut their roster down from 39 players down to 24 as they get ready for their four game pre-season schedule, which will get underway on Thursday, Sept. 8 in Sioux Lookout against the Flyers.
As of right now, two goaltenders (Tyler Ampe and Tanner Hamilton), six defenders and sixteen forwards make up the Lakers roster, though there might be a few changes to that list as the regular season home opener on Friday, Sept. 16 against the Thunder Bay North Starts draws near.
“There might be another defenceman here or there that could be joining us before the pre-season schedule starts, and it also depends on how many local players that we keep,” Lakers head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan explained.
“We could be in the range of having 22 to 23 players going into that first game against Thunder Bay, which is a good number for us as we don’t want to have too many guys kicking around and sitting out, plus it’s nice to have those extra guys for injury purposes and for competition in practices,” Strachan noted.
At this point, Strachan is pleased with how his team is looking, especially with how they performed during the dry-land workouts throughout the camp and in practices so far.
“There was a comment made by one of our staff members on Monday that our team this year is possibly in the best shape this early on in the season than any team we have ever had here,” Strachan enthused.
“The workouts were very impressive by a lot of our returning guys and our newcomers also came in and showed what they did during the summer, which is always good to see, and that just set the stage for the rest of the weekend.
“At the end of the day I’m very happy with how the netminders looked and I’m very happy with our forward situation, but we’ll have to make a few decisions here shortly as we still have 16 forwards on our roster,” Strachan added.
However, Strachan was a little bit disappointed with the quality of the overall depth with the defenders at the training camp, though he is pleased with the six (Connor Hady, Jon Carlson, Marty McFadden, Spencer Korum, Josh Scott and Tarran Romyn) that are currently on the roster.
“Nothing against those guys that are on the team, but I think numbers wise we just didn’t have the depth in camp and I think that sometimes showed in the games we had,” Strachan reasoned.
“That’s an area that we are keying on right now to improve on, and we are discussing things with numerous teams, so hopefully by opening day or shortly afterwards we will have that defensive core set,” Strachan added.
During the camp, Strachan was very impressed by many of his returning players form last year’s roster, who were eliminated in the SIJHL semi-finals by the Dryden Ice Dogs in six games.
“We kept the duo of Ryan Wildman and Byron Katapaytuk together all weekend long, and they were impressive with whoever was on their right side,” Strachan said.
“Dane Morin was a player that wasn’t in our good books at certain points last year, but he worked hard at the end of the season going into the playoffs and he’s come back really hungry and ready to play here as a 20-year-old.
“And I just can’t say enough about the work ethic of guys like Henry Gutierrez and Jaret Leclair, who I believe will both be big players for us this season with what they can bring in speed and tenacity,” Strachan added.
The most pleasant surprise of training camp for Strachan may have been forward Diego Breckenridge, who arrived at the camp on Friday night but made an immediate impression.
“In his first game he added a little spark to the camp and made things a lot more faster and physical out there which was good to see,” Strachan said of the Ohio-based 1991 birth date player.
“Diego’s a guy that works hard, has non-stop energy, and he finishes all of his check, which really woke some of the guys up during the games we had.
“We do have one 1991-born player over the limit at the moment though, so we do have to make a decision about that,” Strachan noted.
On the other hand, there were two forwards that came to the training camp that Strachan had a tough decision to make in deciding that they didn’t make the final roster, with those players being Jordan Fontaine and Dan Chesser.
“Jordan came into the camp as a centre, which he had never played before as he had always played on the wing, but he did an excellent job in that spot,” Strachan said.
“What it boiled down to with him was with his current size and strength, and with the veteran roster that we have for this season, that might of hurt him a little bit in trying to make the team, but it’s very tough to let a kid like that go.
“As for Dan, he was with our team last year but decided to leave before the start of the regular season, so we wanted to give him a second opportunity to come back and make our team,” Strachan continued.
“Again though, with amount of depth we have up front, it would be hard for him to try and fit in this year, but he may be someone we will try and look at in the future if he doesn’t land somewhere else in this league.
“The toughest part of the game is when those guys come into the office and you have to tell them that they are not going to be a part of the team, but that’s just the nature of the business,” Strachan added.
With the roster now set for the pre-season, Strachan will be working with the players over the next week of practice before they start off their four game exhibition schedule, which will also include a home game against Sioux Lookout on Friday Sept. 9 and a home-and-home series against the Wisconsin Wilderness on Sunday and Monday.
“The biggest thing is to get the guys to know our defensive systems and to be a believe in our team concept and philosophy,” Strachan stressed.
“As we get closer to that first game we’ll be working more on our forechecking system and our special teams, which I believe will be a big key for us this season, and I think we have the right guys to help with that,” Strachan added.