Lakers grappling with season ending due to COVID-19

Jamie Mountain

All they can do is move on and look forward to the future.
Such is the mindset for members of the Fort Frances Lakers’ organization in the aftermath of news coming down Friday that the remainder of the 2019-20 CJHL/SIJHL season had been officially cancelled due to the ongoing global COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.
“I’m kind of surprised [the news] came so soon, I guess, after the Thursday conference call we were on,” said Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“I guess there was a little bit of hope that we would resume [the season] at some time but I guess further discussions through the night and into the morning changed the minds of Hockey Canada and the CJHL and they decided it would be best to just cancel the whole season.”
As a result of the CJHL’s decision, all hockey-related activities, including respective League playoffs, the CJHL’s four regional championship events (Fred Page Cup; Dudley-Hewitt Cup; ANAVET Cup; Doyle Cup) and the Centennial Cup Canadian National Junior A Championship will not be held this year.
In further consultation with Hockey Canada, the CJHL’s press release on Friday stated that “it was determined that the cancellation of the CJHL playoffs is an unavoidable outcome.”
“Obviously we’re disappointed, I thought our team was headed in the right direction and that’s kind of been the talk or sense by everybody involved with the organization and it’s definitely a big blow now that we won’t be able to have the Dudley-Hewitt Cup,” said Strachan.
“There’s still lots of questions and answers we’re waiting for in regards to the Dudley and we’ll definitely release more information as we get it. At this time, I think everyone is just in a little bit of shock, disappointed, but on the other side of things, we understand why [the season was cancelled] and it’s a bigger picture than hockey,” he reasoned.
“It’s life in general and we see the point of why everyone is going down this route now.”
Fort Frances was slated to conclude the SIJHL regular season with a pair of home games on Friday against the Wisconsin Lumberjacks and then on Saturday against the Red Lake Miners, but both contests were canned by the league.
As such, the squad finished the 2019-20 season in sixth place out of six teams with a 21-27-4-2 record and was tied with the Lumberjacks (21-27-5-1 with 48 points a piece.
The Lakers’ annual team awards banquet slated for Saturday at the Little Beaver Cultural Centre also was cancelled.
Strachan was pleased with how strongly his team finished the regular season but did admit that it was an up an down year overall on the ice.
“I definitely liked what we did off the start of the season but, you know, I think that early success might have went to our heads a little bit,” Strachan conceded.
“Maybe we started to look at the end result, or end picture, too much in hosting the Dudley and maybe we took it for granted a little bit. We went through a period of ups and downs and through the ups definitely a lot of positive things happened for our team and individual wise.
“Through the down parts, or the low parts of the season, I don’t think we can point any fingers or blame on anybody but ourselves,” he stressed.
“We didn’t push each other as hard as we should have. Maybe we did take for granted that every day we needed to come and work for the end result to have success there.”
Strachan felt as though it took the Lakers a while to learn the work ethic that was needed each and every day and it was a huge factor in what snapped them out of a season-worst slump in January.
“About mid-January we went through, I think it was an eight-game losing streak, and through that eight games I think we lost five or six of them by one goal,” he recalled.
“I could see things changing. Obviously, through that time period we were frustrated, but we were working hard. We were trying to get out of it as quick as we could and then once we did get that win at the ‘Showcase’ and beat Red Lake, I think the guys started to see what their work was paying off for.
“And from that point, we continued to build off our season,” he noted.
“After that win, we played a very strong two weeks of hockey and then kind of went into a little lull for one weekend and snapped out of it with winning three of our last four hockey games of the regular season. I guess as a coach, or as a staff, you get your message across. You try to obviously change the wording here and there to keep them [the players] interested and in the end we definitely put our egos aside. Everybody was going to work for one another and battled for one another and I really would have liked to see what would have happened in the playoffs.”
With the 2019-20 season now in the books earlier than anticipated and what they would have liked, the Lakers’ brass now has their sights set on building and planning for next season.
“We had our exit meetings today [Saturday], there’s a good number of players that expressed that they would like to return and who we can definitely build around,” Strachan noted.
“Our recruiting has started some time ago and we’ve identified some players already that we definitely would like to target and bring in. With hockey at a standstill everywhere in North America at this time, it’ll be tough to scout, but there’s definitely guys that we’re going to reach out to in the near future here and see what their plans are and try to–I guess–entice them to become a Laker next year.”
Strachan also noted that one of the biggest questions that the franchise will be looking forward to hear being answered is the possibility of Fort Frances being able to host the Dudley-Hewitt Cup next year.
“We might not have that answer for a while,” he conceded.
“But it’s definitely a question that’s been brought up already and something I guess we’ll look forward to hearing about. If not, I guess there’s a lot of people that have questions of what to do with the support that we were already given and whatnot and those are things that the Board and obviously the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Committee will have to sit down and hash out the next few weeks as information comes in.
“We had to cancel one of our hotels, I spoke with them today, and they expressed just the disappointment also in not having that opportunity to host a team,” Strachan added.
“Obviously, it would have been an economic boost for them and I have to reach out to everyone else where we had rooms as well and whatnot. So, definitely a tough time for the team and I don’t know where that will put as at financially, but also the community and all that the Dudley brings in.”