By Gary Moskalyk
Record: 9-41-1 22 PTS 22 .204% 7th GF 134 GA 301 -167 PP 17.9% PK 68.1% Playoff Result: 1st Round Exit
Key Players Lost 2002: F Brady Wicklund 4-18-22, D Branden Hill 4-7-11, F Blake Ferris 5-4-9, G Brenden Stroble 6-27-1 5.72 .889
Returning Players: F Jack Wood, F Clark Scaddan, F Trevor Sanderson, F Ian Snooks, F Nolan Rideout, F Teagan Wrolstad, F Ryker Watt, D Darnell Kempf
Goalies: Lukas Toth 6-11-0 3.69 GAA .910 Save% with Port Alberni Bombers VIJHL, Jack Orchard.
Roster update based on SIJHL website Monday, Sept. 18.
The Fort Frances Lakers embark on the 2023-24 campaign with renewed hope. The team swapped out coaches midway through last year, promoting assistant coach Tyler Miller at Christmas time to replace head coach Paul McLean.
The Lakers finished last last year with 9-41-1 record with 134 goals for and 301 against. The culture shift toward winning began midway through last season. Miller will have the full schedule to put his stamp on the team.
“It’s been busy and it’s been good. I think people have seen how far we’ve come from where we’ve been in the last couple of years and now. With our social media, recruit of players–we finally had a good camp which was nice,” said Miller. “With all the work we’ve put in it was good to see that many players at the camp.”
Goalie Jack Orchard, acquired in a trade with the Soo Eagles (NOJHL), led 34 players into camp. Six goalies, 18 forwards and 10 defenceman vied for spots. Orchard was 11-5-0 with Kam River last year, recording a .909 save percentage and 2.34 save percentage as their back-up goalie for the Walleye championship run. His winning pedigree and strong work ethic will only help.
“His leadership and talent and skills are really going to help the Fort Frances Lakers this year. We’re thankful to have him as a leader here.”
The Lakers finished 0-2 in the Sunset Series in Dryden, losing to the Ice Dogs and Red Lake.
“Exhibition stuff that’s why it’s exhibition. You mix up your line-ups, you have kids trying out. We ran a really intense camp.”
Two full days preceded the Sunset Series same-day doubleheader in Dryden on September 10.
The Laker vibe in Fort Frances is looking pretty positive.
“The community is excited. We’ve had people attending the tryouts. . . This isn’t something you can snap your fingers and turn around. It’s something that involves work ethic from the coaching staff, to our board, to our players. That’s how we’re going to change this organization around. Our hard work is starting to reward us, which is nice.”
Miller hopes to have all the pieces in place by September 18th in preparation for the home opener against Dryden.
Returning forward Ryker Watt was a huge signing. Watt led the team in scoring with 43 points on 24 goals and 19 assists last year. He was also 5th in the league with 129 penalty minutes.
“He’s a player. You have a rookie who has 40-some points. We’re excited he came back this year. The sky’s the limit for Ryker. He’s got the work ethic, he’s got the shot, he’s got the compete in him. He’s a great player.”
Key forwards Jack Wood, Clark Scaddan, Trevor Sanderson, Ian Snooks and Nolan Rideout toughed out last season and are back for a better one. Darnell Kempf is the lone returning d-man. Lukas Toth from Swift Current, SK joins Emo native Orchard between the pipes.
“We got our guys back who were 18 last year. Whenever you get a year of junior under your belt, you come back a little bigger, a little stronger, a little faster. That’s what we’re looking for from our returning players. Go from there.
“It’s taken a lot of work to get to where we are now,” added Miller. “I’m very thankful for everyone in the organization, from the board to our fund raising committees, to social media teams. It’s the real deal here now and we’re excited to be back.”