THUNDER BAY – SPORTS – After winning three consecutive Superior International Junior Hockey League Bill Salonen Cup titles and five straight appearances in the finals heading into last season, the Fort Frances Lakers had what they hoped was just a slight bump in the ice.
Finishing fifth overall with a 24-25-3-4 record in 2016-17 and suffering a semifinal exodus at the hands of the eventual SIJHL-winning Dryden GM Ice Dogs, the Lakers will look to once again be among the league’s elite this season.
Under the guidance of head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan, the SIJHL’s all-time leader in wins behind the bench, Fort Frances has been a model franchise on the ice the past half dozen years posting a league-best 231-80-7-14 record in that span.
He also earned an opportunity to attend Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence in Calgary over the summer and work with under-17 program in such areas as high performance development, coaching seminars along with serving as one of the coaches during the National U-17 Development Camp.
Here’s a look at what Strachan had to say about his club and other hockey endeavours in this, the second of six SIJHL preseason Q&A features, which highlights the Fort Frances Lakers.
SIJHL: What are your expectations for the club heading into the 2017-18 season?
WAYNE STRACHAN: We have high expectations for ourselves. We definitely want to rebound from last season, be a competitive team on a nightly basis and become better each day, week and month to try and get back to the league final.
SIJHL: What are your thoughts on what you’ve seen from the team so far and what do you expect to see throughout the season?
WS: We need to become more consistent in our work ethic if we want to reach our goals, but early on there are a lot of positive things happening and we are looking to correct the negatives. We need guys to buy into the program and if that happens we have the ability to be a good hockey team.
SIJHL: Who are a couple of returning players you expect big things from?
WS: Connor Keith and Mark Richter will have to anchor our defensive core. Keith will be called upon to be a big part of our power play and log a lot of minutes. As for Richter, we are looking for him to be a good 200-foot player for us and be solid on a nightly basis. Up front Julian Uhryniuk and Jack Bernie will have to be works horses for us and leaders. We will need Ian Jarvis and Austin Petrie to produce offensively if we hope to have success this season.
SIJHL: Who are some newcomers you’ve signed that you’ve been impressed with early on?
WS: We are hoping 20-year-old goalie Rob Ivy can be a wall for us in net after playing for the Richmond Generals of the USPHL last season. Up front we have several guys we would like to see play big roles for us this year. 17-year-old forward Ian Tookenay saw action with us as an affiliate last year playing with the Kenora Thistles and played some key games with us in the playoffs. He knows what to expect so we are hoping he can contribute to the offense. Jaedin Ness is a 19-year-old who scored 20-plus goals with the Sioux Falls Stampeders AAA U-18 team last season. He is a player who works hard and goes to the dirty areas to create offense. Jeff Venzon is a 20-year-old who has looked good in camp and preseason despite not having played last year due to an injury. He is a player we feel will help our team. Damien Caringi is a 20-year-old who finished with the Brantford 99ers in the GOJHL last year. He will bring speed and skill to our line-up.
SIJHL: What style of play do you expect to instill into the club?
WS: We want to be a competitive and hungry team; a team that will play fast, relentless hockey nightly. A team that is aggressive and will understand we need to be disciplined. We want to be prepared for each day and have the resiliency to win games.
SIJHL: What goals do you have heading into the start of the regular season?
WS: Pretty simple; win Game No. 1 at home. From there, be a team that gets better each day and that our opponents respect for our work ethic.
SIJHL: How was your experience working with Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence over the summer?
WS: Spending this past summer with Hockey Canada put a spark back into me as a coach. I was down about our season and the passing of my good friend and assistant coach/GM Grant Perreault. To get the opportunity to see your methods are on the right track as a coach, but then learn new ideas and gain more knowledge about the sport from some great NHL, CHL and Hockey Canada coaches and mentors was an outstanding experience. To be involved with the program that gets the ball rolling for the POE and see how good the players are is a thrill. Then to get to work with them and again learn from their passion also made the experience enjoyable.
SIJHL: What do you expect to see from your club and the SIJHL in 2017-18?
WS: We expect it to be a competitive year around the league and we look forward to getting it started September 22nd.
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