Lakers to open training camp tomorrow

Lucas Punkari

Tomorrow morning will mark the end of summer vacation for 39 hockey players arriving at the Ice For Kids Arena for the Fort Frances Lakers’ training camp.
And by the sound of things, the start of the season can’t come soon enough for Lakers’ head coach/general manager Wayne Strachan.
“This time of year is always exciting and you are always wondering how the season is going to go,” said Strachan.
“There are numerous times a day that I am writing lineups and depth charts of our team, and how I think we’ll match up against the other teams in our league,” he noted.
“And right now, I think we are sitting in a pretty good position to start the year.
“If we can come in at training camp and do what I believe, and our staff believe, we can do, we’ll be ahead of the game to start the season,” Strachan added.
The camp officially will begin at 11 a.m. tomorrow, with players coming in for registration before they take part in off-ice testing a half-hour later.
“Half of the guys will go to the weight room to be tested in about five or six off-ice physical activities while the others will go outside for some running tests,” Strachan explained.
“We’ve done this for the last four years now at camp, and it allows us to get a measure of which players worked hard over the summer and which players did not.
“It says a lot for the player’s character, I think, and their willingness to improve themselves as hockey players, and it also gives us a way to measure some intangible attributes that a player may bring to the team,” he reasoned.
Following the training sessions, players then will hit the ice for the first time at 7 p.m. for a scrimmage—one of five that will take place during the camp.
The others are scheduled for Friday and Saturday at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
“After those scrimmages on Saturday, we’re going to narrow things down and have a day off on Sunday,” Strachan noted.
“On Monday, we’ll have a light dryland workout and get the guys that are staying for the pre-season together to have a little bit of fun.
“And then starting on the Tuesday, we’ll go really hard in practices for the rest of the week.”
Going into camp, one of the Lakers’ goaltending slots has been filled with Tyler Ampe returning for his second season with the club. But the other spot will be wide-open with Jameson Shortreed set to move to the Alexandria Blizzard of the NAHL.
“Obviously, we will miss him [Shortreed],” said Strachan. “I thought if we could return both him and Tyler, we would have the top goalie tandem in the league.
“Jameson, though, feels that he needs to move on, and we’ll wish him the best of luck and hope that he has some success with where he is going.”
Strachan will have two goalies battling to take over the gap left by Shortreed, with Muskie netminder Scott Parsons and Saskatchewan native Tanner Hamilton squaring off for the spot.
Hamilton seems to be the favourite for that role.
“In that situation, we feel pretty comfortable in Tanner coming in and we have heard a lot of good things about him,” Strachan noted.
“He’ll get every chance to start as our number-two goalie, and hopefully he’ll push Tyler to be his best, and the two will have a fun, competitive battle to see who’s going to play every night.”
The most intriguing battle during training camp might be on defence, with three slots available for the upcoming season.
“We have signed four guys so far [returnees Josh Scott, Marty McFadden, and Connor Hady, along with newcomer Jon Carlson] that we are very happy and we feel that are going to be solid for us,” said Strachan.
“But the biggest thing, I guess, for us will be who will be in adding five through seven.
“Some of the guys that we went after and pursued hard during the summer have chosen to take different routes, so we may have only 10-12 defencemen at camp, which is fine, number-wise, but we might not be having some of the guys that we wanted to have here,” Strachan admitted.
“That’s not to say anything negative about the guys that are going to be there, though, as they will now have an opportunity to stand out and show us what they can do,” he stressed.
There will be a number of invited players looking to fill those three slots for the Lakers, including a few skaters who are locally-based along with those from out-of-town.
“Mario Gauthier is a big kid from Whitefish Bay who played in the league [SIJHL] a couple of years ago with Dryden, and it’ll be interesting to see if he has worked hard since our summer camp in July as he brings size and has junior experience,” Strachan noted.
“There’s a few local guys that we are interested in having on defence, as well, such as Chris Cousineau and Brandon Sinclair, along with Tarran Romyn, who we were very happy to see come to our summer camp.
“He opened up a lot of eyes with his physical play.”
Up front, there will be as many as eight forward lines taking to the ice during the scrimmages, with Strachan keeping an eye on those who will be returning to the Lakers for the 2011/12 season along with those new faces that have signed.
“I’m very interested to see [third-year forward] Byron [Katapaytuk] come back here as he’s been one of our top guys up front for the last two years,” Strachan explained.
“From when he’s talked to us, along with some of his friends and his billet parents in town, he’s excited to come back here and have a big season to further his career, which sounds great to us.
“But I’m curious to see how good he’s going to be because I don’t think he’s showed us his full potential yet.
“It’ll also be interesting to see what some of the young newcomers [Jordan Larson, Wayne Folster, and Ben Michaud] will do with the veterans at camp and to see where exactly they will fit into our roster,” Strachan added.
Like on the back end, Strachan feels the battle for the open forward slots will be highly-contested, with a number of local players being included in the mix.
“Guys like Donovan Cousineau, Nick Jourdain, Robbie Rea, and Brett McMahon are all going to get looks as we definitely need some local players with some of the older guys leaving the team, especially with a guy like Jon Sinclair going to school,” Strachan pledged.
“Davis Smith, who was an affiliated player for us last year, will be at the camp also, and I think with him he just has to come in and define his role, and show us that he wants to be that hard-nosed power forward that can play a checking role and be there for his teammates.
“Also, there is Colton Spicer, who has a lot of talent and probably has the ability to play at this level,” said Strachan. “But we want to see him bring that on a consistent level throughout the weekend and probably during the pre-season.”
However, a number of out-of-town talent also who will be looking to come in and make their mark on the Lakers’ staff to snag one of the open forward slots.
“Mathieu Lefebvre from Timmins is a kid that we have scouted really hard and recruited really hard to come here, and I think he’ll probably end up being a part of the team,” Strachan noted.
“He’s described as a guy who can create offence and put the puck in the net. And when he is playing physical and getting his nose dirty into the corners, that is when he is as his best.
“There’s another kid, as well, from the state of Virginia in Steven Valva, who is a winger that has the ability to be a top-end forward,” added Strachan.
“But I would like to see him get a little more stronger because I could just envision him being pounded by Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay given the aggressive way they like to play.”
Following training camp and a week of practice, the first pre-season game for the Lakers will be in Sioux Lookout on Thursday, Sept. 8, with both teams taking to the ice here the following night at 7:30.
After a “Meet the Lakers” golf tournament at Kitchen Creek Golf Club on Saturday, Sept. 10, the Lakers then will welcome the defending SIJHL champion Wisconsin Wilderness on Sunday (Sept. 11) for a 4 p.m. tilt before travelling to Spooner for a rematch on the Monday.
The Lakers will begin their regular season here on Friday, Sept. 16 against the Thunder Bay North Stars.