Any panic buttons in Wayne Strachan’s office remain unpushed at the present time.
The head coach and general manager of the Fort Frances Lakers wasn’t about to get all worked up over an 0-3-0-1 record in the SIJHL pre-season, which ended with the Lakers dropping both ends of a home-and-home series against the English River Miners over the weekend.
The Miners grabbed a 3-1 win at the Ice For Kids Arena on Friday night, then held on for a 5-4 victory Saturday in Red Lake.
“I am not concerned at this time,” said Strachan, whose team kicks off the regular season here this Friday at 7:30 p.m. versus the Thief River Falls Norskies.
“I know where we need to improve as the GM and the coach, and I will work in both aspects to get that done,” he vowed.
“We have some young guys that need to learn and it will be the coaching staff’s job to teach them what we want to see,” Strachan noted.
“We get some key players back from injury [on Friday] and we are excited to see what we can do as a full squad in game action,” he added.
“The players have worked hard so far this week and I believe are preparing for a solid outing Friday night.”
In the opener against English River, the teams were locked in a scoreless duel until the Miners exploded for three second-period goals against Lakers’ goalie Rob Ivy, who will enter the season as the team’s starting netminder.
Kyle Rosolowski (power play), Ryan Patterson, and Nolan Dawson were the goal scorers.
“Rob was visibly upset at himself after the second [period],” recalled Strachan, whose team’s lone goal came off the stick of Jaedin Ness.
“I feel he made some good saves and gave us a chance to be in the game,” he added.
“He would probably like a couple of those shots back but I am confident he can lead our team in net.
“We were giving the Miners too much room to make plays happen in our end,” Strachan stressed.
The Lakers’ offensive attack also left much to be desired in the opener, including a penalty shot that was stopped by Miners’ goalie Westin Cardwell.
“We do not attack the net enough,” Strachan said.
“If we are going to be successful offensively, we need to get to the paint to score goals.”
Saturday’s game was knotted 2-2 after the first period as Ness and Ian Jarvis tallied for the Lakers while Michael Di Lullo and Joe Cirone replied for the Miners.
Ness has been one of the Lakers’ top players during the pre-season and Strachan held him up as a role model for the rest of the club.
“He plays hard every shift,” he lauded. “We can use his work ethic as an example of how you should play every shift.
“He uses his speed and goes to the areas you need to if you want to have success.”
Ethan Wong (power play) and Cirone made it 4-2 after 40 minutes against Lakers’ goalie Michael Binczyk.
“I felt Michael played decent,” Strachan remarked.
“Breakdowns in front of him led to some weak goals for them, in my opinion, but I don’t believe we can fault his play,” he noted.
“I don’t think they did anything special to break us down,” Strachan added.
“It’s mental mistakes and players not being taught where they have came from the basic fundamentals to play defence,” he reasoned.
“We get scrambling around and out of position, and we give up too many good scoring chances.”
Boehn Mock made it 5-2 just over eight minutes into the third, which proved to be a pivotal play for the Miners.
The Lakers roared back with tallies by Asher Chorney and Charlie Wilkie just before time expired as the Lakers came up one goal short.
“It shows we have resiliency and character–we didn’t give up,” said Strachan.
“We end pre-season on a positive,” he added. “We win the period and, hopefully, we can build some momentum off of that for Friday.”
The Lakers were without forward Dominick Allan for Saturday’s game after he suffered an upper-body injury Friday night that will sideline him indefinitely.
Defenceman Izzy Smith (illness) didn’t play either game on the weekend.
Meanwhile, the Lakers brought in a familiar face to bolster the ranks while officially saying good-bye to three members of last season’s squad.
Forward Hunter Buzzi was acquired from the Melfort Mustangs (SJHL) for a player development fee.
Buzzi, an 18-year-old Ignace native, spent most of last year with the Kenora Thistles (Manitoba ‘AAA’ Midget Hockey League), where he had 38 points in 40 games, along with 106 penalty minutes.
He then joined the Lakers near the end of the season, getting three assists in three regular-season games before then adding an assist in eight playoff contests.
Buzzi had gone pointless in two games with the Mustangs so far this season.
As for those leaving, Dawson Waddell joined already-traded fellow forward Tanner Garnham on the Swan Valley Stampeders (MJHL) for a player development fee.
Waddell, another 18-year-old who calls Brandon home, had 16 points in 27 regular-season games with the Lakers last season in what was an injury-riddled campaign.
Defenceman Matt Bruinsma was shipped to the Amherstview Jets of the Empire B Junior ‘C’ Hockey League of the Ontario Hockey Association for another player development fee.
Bruinsma had seven points in 46 regular-season outings with the Lakers last season.
In other team news, the Lakers have teamed up with Next Level SP based out of Kenora and Quesnel, B.C.
Next Level SP founder Brian Kozak and assistant Riley Ferster will assess Laker players, as well as provide individual training programs and guidance throughout the year.
“Next Level SP provides the science, technology, and expertise for players to reach their optimal performance,” touted Strachan.
“Brian and Riley have extensive experience working with some of the top players in the game, and are a huge addition to our organization’s commitment to our players and the community,” he added.
“Every player that dons a Lakers’ uniform should see vast improvement in their development if they follow the program set forth for them by Next Level SP,” Strachan said.