SIJHL preseason preview: Fort Frances Lakers

The Fort Frances Lakers continue their winning ways
Robbie Bonthron, No. 24, of the Fort Frances Lakers celebrates a first period goal in the win over the Dryden GM Ice Dogs - Photo credit: Tim Bates/OJHL Images
Robbie Bonthron, No. 24, of the Fort Frances Lakers celebrates a first period goal in the win over the Dryden GM Ice Dogs – Photo credit: Tim Bates/OJHL Images

THUNDER BAY, Ont. – As the longest serving head coach in the Superior International Junior Hockey League, Wayne Strachan has just about seen it all in his lengthy tenure.

While victories were hard to come by last season, under Strachan’s guidance Fort Frances has recorded 30-plus wins in six of their past eight campaigns.

Boasting more wins than any bench boss in SIJHL history as well as a trio of Bill Salonen Cup titles to his credit, Strachan aims to bring his squad back among the league’s elite in 2018-19.

This latest SIJHL produced team preview, put together with its member clubs, today features the Fort Frances Lakers.

SIJHL: What are your expectations for the club heading into the 2018-19 season?

WAYNE STRACHAN: Bring the Bill Salonen Cup back to our trophy case! We want to see our players prosper in our community and give back as well as they learn important life skills to help them reach their future goals, on and off the ice.

SIJHL: Give us your thoughts on what you’ve seen from your team through training camp and your exhibition games.

W.S.: We have emphasized solid character and hard work for the young men we have in our locker room. Right now, they have exemplified both these traits through camp and everything they have worked on. Our camaraderie is good and the players are having fun together. On the ice we have started to grasp our identity as a team and will continue to grow our game leading up to the regular season.

SIJHL: Who are a couple of returning players you expect big things from?

W.S.: Our leading scorer from last season and SIJHL Most Sportsmanlike Player Nick Lucas will be relied heavily on to lead the way. He has had a good summer and looks strong in the early part through exhibition. Also, Jaedin Ness, our leading goal scorer from last season, like Nick, will be relied on to be a leader and bring his energy and emotion to help fire up our team. Noah Loveday will also be a player that we will expect to grow his game. He can play many different roles throughout our line up and we felt he was one of our best players leading up to Christmas last season we need him to regain that form and help show the Lakers Way.

SIJHL: Who are some newcomers you’ve signed that you’ve been impressed with early on?

W.S.: Defenseman Nate Drobnick is a big-bodied guy who skates well, is heads up and will fit in nicely with our style of play. We get Nate from Burnsville High School and he has a huge upside to his game. Local forward Brett Hahkala was acquired from the Powasson Voodooos of the NOJHL. He brings OHL and championship experience to our line up and he will be relied on to show what it takes for us to regain the cup in Fort Frances. We feel Brett is set to have a strong season for the red, white and black. Veteran forward Kirk Coppock from Thunder Bay has also looked good through camp and into preseason. He brings leadership, a strong desire to play and he has brought some offense to our line up as well. He is coming off a strong year for New Ulm in the NA3HL and we hope that he has that form from last year in our line up as well.

SIJHL: How has the SIJHL changed over the years you’ve been coaching in the league?

W.S.: The compete level is the highest I have ever seen. The coaching has improved immensely and the emphasis on skill is improving year after year. The teams are stable and as a league whole there is work to forge ahead and make improvements for the benefit of all involved. The SIJHL doesn’t get the credit or respect it deserves with the quality of people we have involved and the quality of play that is portrayed on a nightly basis. If you want to have success you need to recruit hard, find quality character kids and this shows by the number of players now getting looks from the league to further their careers at higher levels.

SIJHL: What goals do you have heading into the start of the regular season and beyond?

W.S.: We want to win game 1; portray solid character and believe in ourselves. We want to develop both on and off the ice, enjoy coming to the rink, play nightly to our identity and win the SIJHL championship.

NOJHL: What does it mean for Fort Frances being named host of the SIJHL All-Star Game in November?

W.S.: Its a great honour to be the franchise to host the event in our home arena. Its a nice acknowledgement for our board and volunteers who work so hard to make junior hockey a possibility for our community. We thank the SIJHL for the consideration and hope to really bring the Border Battle aspect to the game. Being a border community, we have a strong rivalry with our neighbours from International Falls and we hope a game like this will bring fans in to cheer for both of their country’s teams. It will be great for our community and businesses.

SIJHL: Any closing comments you’d like to offer to wrap things up?

W.S.: With some potential expansion looming, I believe the SIJHL is going in the right direction and we are looking forward to another great year of competitive hockey.

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