Lakers’ prospect camp set to go

Lucas Punkari

For local hockey fans, the first sign that a new season is just around the corner will take place this weekend when the Fort Frances Lakers hold their annual three-day summer prospect camp starting Friday evening at the new Couchiching Arena.
After being held at Bronco Arena in International Falls for the last three years, this weekend’s camp will mark the first time the Lakers’ brass will get a chance to look at their possible future talent on this of the border.
“With Couchiching having the new rink and the ice in it already, it worked out well for us to have the chance to host the camp on this side of the border,” said Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“In a way, it helps them out as they are able to get some rental time for their rink, and this will hopefully allow more people to see what our summer rookie camp is all about,” he added.
This year’s format will be similar to years past, featuring four 90-minute scrimmages over the course of the weekend.
The first one is set for Friday at 8 p.m., with Saturday’s scrimmages getting underway at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The final one goes Sunday at 10 a.m.
“We did throw around the idea of having a practice on Friday night to start things off,” Strachan noted.
“But we are thinking that most of the kids have been on the ice already before they will get here, so we will start right away with the scrimmage on Friday,” he reasoned.
Although the final numbers of the camp weren’t finalized as of press time, Strachan is expecting 40 players to take to the ice over the weekend.
“We’ve had some good luck in having some American kids that are coming in from farther away for the camp,” he said.
“We’ll have a number of Northwestern Ontario kids at the camp, and we also have a goalie coming from Alberta for the camp, so there will be a good mix of locations on hand,” he added.
Also on hand at this weekend’s camp will be former International Falls Broncos’ sniper Lucas DeBenedet, who the Lakers signed last month, along with returnees Mason Meyer, Jon Dora, Hunter Leishman, and Alex Bruess.
“The Lipinski twins [Bryce and Lyndon] will not be at this camp but they will be at our main camp in August,” Strachan noted.
“We also have a couple of players who will be attending our main camp instead because of cost reasons, such as Kevin Miller from New Jersey, who is someone that we are really excited about seeing,” he added.
While changes to the CJHL’s import rules, which only allows seven players from the U.S. to play for a Junior ‘A’ team, means the Lakers’ brass will be looking for more Canadian players to step up over the weekend, the type of players they’ll look to consider adding to their roster won’t stray too much from the team’s philosophy.
“We will be looking for a mix of fast and skilled players up front, along with some hard-working guys that can play along the boards,” Strachan said.
“Defensively, we will be looking for some guys that can move the puck well.
“And we will need the goalies to step up and fill the void that we have with all three of our goalies from last year no longer with the team,” he stressed.
The space between the pipes is the most glaring need for the Lakers at this time as Tanner Hamilton (graduated), Jameson Shortreed (committed to Briercrest College in Saskatchewan), and Talor Joseph (traded to the Portage Terriers) all have left.
“We have Ryan Mork coming in from Alberta, who is someone that we are very excited to see,” Strachan noted.
“We have heard some good things about him, and we think that he could be a great fit for us as a number-one goalie.
“We will also have three local guys at the camp with Wes Gunnerson from the Falls, Muskie goalie Ryan Ferguson from Atikokan, and Fort Frances’ Brandon Bodnar from the Kings,” Strachan added.
“We are going to take a long look at all three guys as the more local players we can have is better for us,” he reasoned.
Meanwhile, there will be a Northwestern Ontario flavour on the blueline at this weekend’s camp, with Strachan keeping his eye on three players from this area that may fill the role left open after Jon Carlson was dealt to Portage two weeks ago.
“Locally, we’ll have Brandon Sinclair at the camp, who is someone that played a few games for us here and there over the last couple of years,” he noted.
“He’s someone that could have played with us as a member of the team over the last couple of seasons, and we are hoping that he is ready to step into the squad and that he can contribute to the top six.
“We will also have a big defenceman in the camp from Kenora in Ben Smaha, who we have heard good things about after he played in the Manitoba league for the ‘AAA’ Thistles last season,” Strachan said.
“Kenton Peters from the Lake of the Woods Bears, who is a taller kid from the Canadian side, will also be at the camp.”
With five forwards from last year’s team (Brendan Cawston, Davis Smith, Jacob Nolan, Jordan Christianson, and Merritt Rysavy) all graduating from the Junior ‘A’ ranks, and Colton Spicer being dealt to the Portage Terries, the battle amongst the forwards might be among the most competitive all weekend as a number of players will look to impress the Lakers’ brass.
“We have Nicholas Nigro from Thunder Bay coming, who is a smaller skilled forward that has OHL opportunities [with the Peterborough Petes] but we are hoping that we can entice him to come here if things don’t work out,” Strachan said.
“There will be a couple of American kids at the camp in Brady Pederson and Hunter Scott, who are both smaller forwards but have speed and play a feisty game,” he added.
“We are also interested to see where Nick Jourdain is at as he probably didn’t play as much as he wanted to last year with the short season for the Muskies.”