Mixed feelings for Strachan after camp

Lucas Punkari

Heading into last weekend’s summer camp over in International Falls, Fort Frances Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan and the rest of his staff were hoping to fill in a few blanks they had about their roster for the 2011/12 season.
Instead, the Lakers still are searching for answers as to some of the players they’ll be needing for the upcoming campaign following four scrimmages from Friday to Sunday.
“All in all, I think our staff was a little disappointed,” Strachan sighed.
“I was a little disappointed in the calibre of the out-of-town players as it wasn’t where I thought they would be playing at,” he noted.
“But we did have five or six guys that either backed out at the last minute or had something else come up, so I think that really hurt the calibre of the camp.”
It wasn’t just the out-of-town players that left the Lakers’ staff underwhelmed. They also were somewhat disappointed with the performances of some of the local skaters who took to the ice.
“I say this every year but the local players in Fort Frances have to realize what it takes to play at the Junior ‘A’ level,” Strachan stressed.
“It’s not high school hockey or Midget ‘AA’ or wherever else they are coming from, and you can see the difference between them and the other guys who have that Junior ‘A’ experience or the guys who have taken part in higher level camps,” he remarked.
Still, there were a few players that Strachan and his staff were impressed by, with recent signees Payton Ruter and Jordan Larson leading the way.
“They played together for the entire camp almost and they kind of gelled well together,” Strachan said.
“As the first day got going, we watched them cycle the puck and create things out of the corner, which is a big part of our game throughout the year, so that was great to see.
“I’m not sure yet if they play together in the main training camp or at the start of the year, but they definitely have some chemistry,” Strachan added.
Besides the two incoming members of the Lakers’ roster, Strachan also was impressed by a pair of local skaters and two out-of-towners.
“Back on defence, Lyndon Soper from Manitoba and Jon Carlson are two guys that come to mind right away,” he said. “And up front, Eric Miller from Warroad and Colton Spicer both stood out.
“Both Soper and Carlson were both working really hard all weekend long, and we think they are both guys that can help our defensive core for next season as they both move the puck well and jump into the play.
“We will be in touch with Lyndon quite a bit during the next couple of weeks to try and entice him to come up this way, and Jon is probably going to go to his Ottawa 67’s camp at the end of August,” noted Strachan.
“And while we really hope to have him our lineup, we understand that if he has a chance to go into the OHL, it’ll be a great opportunity for him.”
Meanwhile up front, Strachan was pleased with the performance of Spicer, who was drafted by the Sudbury Wolves in May’s OHL priority selection, and Miller, who was matched up with Larson and Ruter during the weekend.
“I took me a little bit to buy into Eric, as he’s a fast skater but he’s also a bit of an awkward skater,” Strachan admitted.
“When I watched him at first, I had my doubts. But as I talked to some of the other evaluators, the guys on the staff and a few other people watching the games, they were all very impressed with him.
“As I watched him more and more, I saw the things that they all saw and now we have to make a decision to try and lock him up during the next couple of weeks, or risk losing him to another club,” Strachan noted.
“With Spicer, he was a guy who showed some flashes of what he can do. And if he can put it together consistently, I think he has a chance to play at the Junior ‘A’ level and be a successful player,” Strachan added.
Going into the camp, Strachan was very keen to see how the four goalies taking part (Casey Myhre, John Hanson, Chris Larson, and Neill Kelley) would perform given the situation with last year’s netminding duo of Tyler Ampe and Jameson Shortreed remains unresolved.
Instead, Strachan was left to look at other options following the performances of all four between the pipes during the four scrimmages.
“As the weekend went on, it was very tough to watch, and there were some very weak goals that were let in throughout the camp,” Strachan remarked.
“We are going to have to sit down and look ahead at what to do in goal, as we have a couple of goalies on the back-burner that we have been talking to, along with both Ampe and Shortreed.
“I’m hoping to speak with Ampe and have him locked up before the end of this week,” Strachan said.
“And we will have to wait on Jameson until his camp with the [USHL’s] Fargo Force is done, but we would ultimately like to have both of them back.”
Besides the situation in goal, Strachan will be looking to add more skaters to the Lakers’ roster prior to the start of training camp on Thursday, Aug. 25.
Just half-a-dozen players currently are signed for the upcoming season.
“So far we’ve locked up six forwards, which gives us a step in the right direction, and now the defence will be our main priority,” Strachan explained.
“We are probably going to be signing Josh Scott and Marty McFadden to come back again this year, and after that we are going to be looking hard for four or five more defenders.
“Also, we are interested in and we are looking at locking up a new guy from the Timmins area by next Monday, who is another forward that can add a little skill and physicalness to the lineup, which will be a step in the right direction for us,” added Strachan.
“We have invited numerous forwards and defenders to the main camp, and once that starts, we will ween through them and get our team going,” he reasoned.
Besides bringing in new faces in Ruter and Larson, the Lakers have re-signed forwards Blake Boaz, Byron Katapaytuk, Ryan Wildman, and Henry Gutierrez for the 2011/12 campaign.