Lakers trade Park, Kooner

Joey Payeur

Wayne Strachan put an end to any hint of a goaltending controversy before it even had a chance to swirl this coming season.
The Fort Frances Lakers’ head coach and general manager dealt goalie Nathan Park and forward Dylan Kooner to the Portage Terriers (MJHL) on Friday—a move he hopes will strengthen his team’s chances of winning a third-straight SIJHL championship,
In exchange, the Terriers sent forward Quinn Lenihan and future considerations to the Lakers.
Park, a 20-year-old from Edmonton, was named the top goalie in the SIJHL last season as he backstopped the Lakers to a second-straight Bill Salonen Cup.
The netminder, who joined the Lakers back in December, posted a 14-4 regular-season record, along with league-best marks in GAA (1.92) and save percentage (.931).
He also was outstanding in the playoffs—going 8-2 with a 2.65 GAA and .919 save percentage.
Park then went 1-1 in three games at the Dudley Hewitt Cup here, beating the reigning champion Toronto Patriots 2-1 in overtime before being pulled in a 6-3 loss to the eventual champion Soo Thunderbirds.
But Park’s season came to a sudden end in the final round-robin game against the Dryden Ice Dogs, when he suffered a knee injury.
Back-up Pierce Dushenko came on to make 20 stops to preserve a 5-3 win, who then made 43 saves to beat the Patriots 6-4 in the semi-final and again was outstanding with 41 saves despite falling 3-2 to the Thunderbirds in the final.
With Dushenko announcing his intention to return to the Lakers last month, Strachan felt confident enough to trade Park to the Terriers.
The move also costs the Lakers the speedy Kooner, a 19-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C. who was second on the team in assists (37) and sixth in team scoring in the regular season with 45 points in 56 games.
Kooner also had eight points in 11 playoff games before getting injured in the Dudley Hewitt Cup opener against Toronto and missed the rest of the tournament.
His departure means all six of the Lakers’ top point-getters last season are now gone—having either used up their junior eligibility or having signed to play college hockey before their eligibility was finished (DeBenedet).
Joining the Lakers is Lenihan, who never played a game for the Terriers after they picked him up from the Surrey Eagles (BCHL).
The 19-year-old from Surrey, who has played both forward and defence in his career, had 13 points in 55 games with Surrey last season, along with 20 penalty minutes.
Meanwhile, with Kooner having departed, word last Thursday of the return of veteran forwards Dylan Robertson and Colton Spicer was even more important.
Robertson now is the top returning scorer after ending up seventh on the team with 39 points in 39 games last season.
The 20-year-old from Atlanta added five points in 11 playoff games, then had six points in five games during the Dudley Hewitt Cup, including a huge rally-killing goal as part of a three-point night against the Patriots in the semi-final.
“He is reliable defensively and his role grew as the season went on,” Strachan said of Robertson.
“In the playoffs, he maintained his level of play and saved the best for the Dudley Hewitt Cup,” he lauded.
“We feel Dylan will be a huge part of our team this season and have a key leadership role in helping our team pursue another deep run in the playoffs.”
As for Spicer, a 20-year-old Fort Frances native, he will enter his fifth and final junior season with one of his main goals being to stay healthy.
Injuries have cost him significant time the past two seasons.
“We are hoping he [Spicer] has saved everything for a big grand finale,” said Strachan.
“He got off to a strong start last season and was leading the league scoring early on,” he noted.
“We feel if Colton can come into the season having a summer to get himself in great shape, he can be a difference-maker for our hockey team through the season,” Strachan predicted.
“He has the ability to put up big numbers if he keeps focused and working hard through out the year.”
The Lakers also revealed their main training camp will run Aug. 27-29 at the Ice For Kids Arena.
As well, the squad will play four pre-season games.
A home-and-home series against the Steinbach Pistons, runners-up to the Terriers for the MJHL’s Turnbull Cup last year, will open here Sept. 4.
The series then shifts to Steinbach on Sept. 11.
Another home-and-home clash will take place between the Lakers and Minnesota Iron Rangers.
Dates for that two-game set were not announced as of press time.