Lakers trim roster heading into pre-season

Dan Falloon

The list of hopefuls looking to suit up for the Fort Frances Lakers this season has been cut to 29.
The Lakers are set in net with goalies Jameson Shortreed and Tyler Ampe, but battles still remain among the skaters as 10 defencemen and 17 forwards remain in camp.
Head coach Wayne Strachan figured the team likely will opt for seven defencemen and 14 forwards to open the 2010-11 season.
Strachan noted 11 forwards and four defencemen have made enough of an impression to merit a spot on the team, leaving three slots at each position up for grabs.
The tough decisions will come down later this week after the Lakers visit the Dryden Ice Dogs tonight before hosting the Sioux Lookout Flyers on Friday in a pair of exhibition games.
The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. both nights.
“We’ll probably be making decisions after Friday’s game which way we’re going to go,” Strachan said.
“The guys that will be fighting for positions will be the guys that we take a look at in this week’s games.”
Strachan admitted the coaching staff has had many, many tough decisions—and a few more ahead of them.
“A good thing to have is decisions to make,” he reasoned.
Workhorse defencemen Morgan McNeill, Cody Hasbargen, and Josh Scott will be returning, but Ryan Presthus is the biggest name cut from camp thus far.
Presthus, who tallied two goals and 11 assists during the regular season last year to pace the Lakers’ blueliners in scoring, quickly found work with the Flyers.
“Ryan was a big part of our defensive core last year, and it’s always a hard decision to do something like that,” Strachan remarked.
“We felt we had to move on and grow with these younger guys.”
Strachan was comfortable letting the 20-year-old go since he felt a number of defencemen had an impressive showing during training camp.
“The buzz around the rink was the size of our ‘D’ and how they’ve improved through the off-season,” he noted.
Strachan said the biggest surprise on the back end was Phil Jennrich, who spent parts of the last two seasons with Yellowstone of the Northern Pacific Hockey League, racking up 16 points in 37 games during that span.
“Phil Jennrich has come in and won a position at this point,” said Strachan. “His skating ability and offensive awareness could be key to our success.
“He’s definitely going to help the team if he stays focused and in the right frame of mind,” he stressed.
As for up front, the forward lines are going to take a little time to gel given five forwards who ended the 2009-10 season with the team will not return.
Tim Hennessey wrapped up his eligibility, Justin Erhart and Cody Edwards were traded away, and neither Jordan Carne nor Irv Lockman attended camp.
Both Carne and Lockman, who were revelations in the post-season with 12 points and five points, respectively, will be particularly noticeable absences.
“It was disappointing,” Strachan sighed. “They both had great opportunities to be a part of this team again.
“Jordan, I think, played some of the best hockey of his young career in the playoffs last year and he was rewarded,” he added.
“[He was] a big part of our success playing with Byron [Katapaytuk] and Mike Jourdain up front and leading us, lots of times, by example in the playoffs.
“That’s a big loss for us and a big hole to fill,” Strachan admitted.
Lockman, meanwhile, is best remembered for Game 5 of the first-round series against the now-defunct K&A Wolverines, where he scored a timely hat trick after notching just three points all season.
“There’s a guy that excelled in the playoffs for us, and had some success as a role guy in the last half of the season and into the playoffs,” recalled Strachan.
“It’s always disappointing to see a vet not return, but sometimes hockey isn’t on everyone’s agenda,” he reasoned.
Strachan is hoping those losses can be offset by some new blood, including ex-Muskie Davis Smith, who caught Strachan’s eye over the course of five intrasquad games last week.
Smith tried out for the Lakers last season, but is much improved from last year’s evaluation.
“His skating from last season has changed a lot,” lauded Strachan. “I think that has to do with his strength, too. He’s a lot more mature and has filled out strength-wise.
“He’s showed flashes of scoring touch,” added Strachan.
“He’s defensively aware, and he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty and get in the corner and dig the puck out.”
Lastly, Strachan is confident with Shortreed and Ampe guarding the cage.
Shortreed took the reins for the Lakers last year, capping off the season with the SIJHL’s goalie-of-the-year honours. But Strachan said Ampe, out of Hermantown (Mn.) High School, has made a push for playing time, as well.
Ampe went 14-4, with a 1.97 goals against average and .905 save percentage, with Hermantown last year.
“It’s anyone’s job to win the number-one [position],” Strachan stressed.
“With Jameson having the experience and obviously, the way he played last year, he’s probably the front-runner in my mind at this point.”
However, Strachan intends to start the season with more of a tandem, hoping there isn’t much of a drop from one goalie to another.
“For the most part, my philosophy is to share the [goaltending] duties as much as possible,” he explained.
“From what I’ve seen, I believe we can do that.
“Outside of that, we can reward a guy here and there for a very good performance so then he might get back-to-back starts,” Strachan continued.
“If one of them earns the opportunity to be rewarded, they will be, and if one needs a break, then the other one will probably have to step up and fill in for him and take control of the reins.”
At 17 and 18, respectively, Shortreed and Ampe will comprise a young netminding duo. As such, Strachan plans to set out a detailed explanation of his system early on so there aren’t any hard feelings should one start to earn the bulk of the ice.
“Goalies are always a tough decision for a coach, but I think if you have a little bit of a game plan and strategy of how you’re going to work with them, and they understand that, then it makes it easier for both sides to get along and for them to build a relationship together,” he reasoned.
The Lakers will have their first opportunity to see their selections in live game action tonight in Dryden, with all of the players on the bubble—and a sprinkling of veterans—expected to be in the lineup.
“I’m not sure how many vets will be in the lineup yet as we’d like to get a look at the other guys,” Strachan said.
“But we’re not really worried about winning or losing in the exhibition, especially in the first two games.
“We’d like to evaluate our players and our situation, and then next week start to get a little more geared up for the season,” he remarked.
“The lineup will go into the season on the ice in our last two exhibition games next week.”
The regular season opens Sept. 17 when the Lakers host the defending champion Fort William North Stars at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.