Lakers ready to kick off season

Joey Payeur

The Fort Frances Lakers plan to take the bull’s-eye on their back and use it like Captain America’s shield to bash their opponents into submission.
As the defending SIJHL champs, the Lakers will be in the cross hairs of the other four teams in the league as they begin their regular-season campaign here Friday night against the Thunder Bay North Stars.
Fort Frances then heads to Hoyt Lakes on Sunday to take on its victim in last year’s Bill Salonen Cup final, the Minnesota Iron Rangers, in what will be the first of only three afternoon contests for the local squad this season.
“It will be a great test for us to open the season,” said Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“They [North Stars] have many good players returning and will be solid between the pipes.
“We feel we will have four deep lines that can push the pace,” he added. “We feel our defence will only grow and get better, and we know in net we have goalies that are capable of playing big.
“It is an exciting week to get things going.”
The Lakers completed the pre-season with a 4-1 record, including a 5-4 victory over the English River Miners on Sunday in Ear Falls.
Bryson Jasper’s man-advantage marker at 8:26 of the third proved to be the insurance marker after Jared Bingus drew the Miners to within one at 10:12.
Jasper’s goal capped a terrific day on the power play for the Lakers, who struck four times in six tries—and that’s without any time to polish their attack.
“To be honest, we haven’t practised the power play once,” Strachan confessed.
“We have had the mentality to keep it simple with a basic breakout, get in their zone, and be creative,” he noted.
“[On Sunday] we moved the puck well, supported well, and got pucks to the net with players around the net,” Strachan added.
“That’s all you can ask for with the man advantage.”
Colton Spicer, Bowen Alcock, Max Kaercher, and Jarred Taylor also scored for the Lakers while Devin Tappenden earned the win in net.
Ben Smaha, Liam Watson, and Ian Bablitz replied for the Miners, with Greg Harney getting tagged for the loss.
“We have the speed and skill to push the pace, and our ability to attack a team’s defence is what impresses me the most,” said Strachan.
“We haven’t had, at one time, our best 12 forwards together yet and we still have managed to find success through the pre-season.
“I like the makeup of skill versus grit we have,” he continued. “The two things I believe we need to work on or improve on is we have a tendency to make soft plays at times with the puck or try and throw pucks through the middle of the ice.
“We need to keep pucks safe and make smart decisions,” he stressed.
“The second area is attacking the net, whether it be with shots or bodies causing havoc or looking for rebounds,” Strachan added.
“We did a much better job of this Sunday in Ear Falls.”
While he didn’t score in Sunday’s pre-season finale, Strachan gave two thumbs up to new addition Alex Rezansoff, who came to the Lakers after the Wisconsin Wilderness folded this past off-season.
“The biggest thing I have noticed with Alex is his work ethic,” Strachan said of Rezansoff, who led all Lakers with six goals during the pre-season.
“He is always working. Whether in practise or games, he doesn’t quit; he pushes himself.
“In saying that, it gets him opportunities because he plays good position and he causes turnovers, all resulting in creating offence and offensive chances,” Strachan added.
“When he has had the opportunities, he has taken advantage of them.”
With almost an entirely new blueline corps getting its feet wet, Strachan knows better days lie ahead for that group.
“With the inexperience we have on defence, the biggest area we need to work on is moving our feet and making a good first pass,” he remarked.
“I believe we have made good strides on our back end, but at times you see bad habits creep into some of their game and we throw pucks away, get out of position, or chase pucks or players we shouldn’t.
“It will come as we grow and work more together as a group,​” he reasoned.
The netminding situation, meanwhile, still is working itself out as Strachan is keeping three goalies on the roster entering the season-opener.
“For now, we have decided to keep all three that are still [here],” he confirmed.
“In evaluating or assessing the goalies’ play, we feel all three have played well at times and also have let in some soft goals at times.
“We are going to need one or two of them to step up and take charge,” Strachan stressed. “They need to be focused and working hard every day to get themselves prepared for games when they are called upon.
“We need a goalie that is going to make big saves if we need him to night after night.”
In putting the finishing touches on his team’s opening-night lineup, Strachan sent three prospective Lakers packing and picked up three others.
Fort Frances traded forwards Adrian Guenette, Nic Proulx, and Nick Scherbinin to English River for a player development fee.
That freed up roster space to bring in forwards Tristan Salesse and Josh Brunton from the Winkler Flyers (MJHL) for a player development fee.
Salesse and Brunton both signed with Winkler after playing last season with the Kenora Thistles Midget ‘AAA’ squad.
Strachan also brought on board 18-year-old forward Dylan Kooner from the Mission City Outlaws (Pacific Junior Hockey League).
Kooner split last season between Mission City and the Abbotsford Pilots.