THUNDER BAY, Ont. – As head coach and general manager of the Superior International Junior Hockey League’s Fort Frances Lakers, no one has seen more time behind the bench in it than Wayne Strachan.
The long-time SIJHL coach has more victories than anyone in league history and has also led the Lakers to a trio of Bill Salonen Cup championships.
Reflecting on nearly two decades of involvement with his hometown club, the Fort Frances product offers some insight and reflection in the latest SIJHL-produced Q&A session with its respective head coaches.
SIJHL: You were named this year’s recipient of the Gary Cook Memorial Award. What did being recognized with that honour mean to you?
WAYNE STRACHAN: It was very unexpected. However, it was a great honour to be added to the list of names that have won this prestigious award. To have known Cookie as a friend, colleague and played for him, you seen his dedication, work ethic and it’s special to me to be recognized in honouring his name.
SIJHL: As the dean of SIJHL coaches, how has the league changed in your viewpoint in nearly 20 years of existence?
WS: The dedication of each and every organization is the biggest change. People putting in countless hours to make sure our teams are operating first class. The hard work of many to improve the game on and off the ice has changed immensely. The dedication to find good hockey coaches that are committed to the development of the players and helping them move on to reach their goals has risen over the years. The ability and skill set of the players changes each year and from day one until now, there is no comparison.
SIJHL: How important is it recruiting local Fort Frances talent when filling out the Lakers roster?
WS: Being community owned and operated it’s very high on our agenda. The importance of having players from both Fort Frances and just across the border in International Falls, Minn., increases the opportunity for sponsorship and a solid fan base. Not to mention to help a local prospect reach their hockey goals, or go to school, makes all the hard work by the many volunteers worthwhile.
SIJHL: What are some of your highlights in your time as head coach and GM of the Lakers?
WS: The biggest highlight would be the friendships and relationships I have gained over the years. A close second would be the amount of young men we have inspired and helped develop to pursue their goals in life. I believe in the area of 70-80 have moved on to become student-athletes or compete in the CHL. Many others have gone on to school and furthered their careers. Obviously winning three championships and hosting a Dudley-Hewitt Cup are right up there as well. It’s always rewarding to get a text, email or call from a former player. Checking in to see how the team, myself and family are doing, just to say hi, or thanking our organization for their time with us.
SIJHL: Who are a couple players you coached in the league over the years that really stood out to you?
WS: Well there are several names that come to mind, but goaltender Ryan Faragher is one. To see his drive and work ethic, you knew he was going to succeed. Also, to have coached and worked with Chris Sinclair to see his love for the game and his spirit on the ice. One of my favourite all-time Laker players is Byron Katapaytuk. He had raw talent, was tough and was a good kid. Some young guys we had that moved on to play at high levels include Jordan Larson, Mitch Cain and Cole Tymkin. Roshen Jaswal, Lucas Debenedet and Nick Minerva will be names to watch in the next few years.
SIJHL: You won a Dudley-Hewitt Cup as a player and played for a Centennial Cup with the Thunder Bay Flyers. What would it mean to coach a DHC-winning team and be behind the bench at a national championship?
WS: It would be an ultimate goal and we definitely would have liked the opportunity to see what happened this year. It was definitely disappointing to have the season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and not having the opportunity to have hosted the Dudley-Hewitt Cup once again in Fort Frances. It would be a great honour to lead a team to these feats and gain some much-deserved respect around the Junior A ranks.
SIJHL: Is there any things you would like to see changed in the game in how it’s played?
WS: I would like to see the CJHL go to more of the NHL rules. Hybrid icing, four-on-four coincidental penalties. Ways to make the game faster and more exciting. As much as three-on-three and the shootout are exciting for fans, I like battling five-on-five until a winner is determined.
SIJHL: Do you have any closing thoughts to wrap things up?
WS: I would just would like to say thank you to all the essential workers out there being strong for our communities and country. Keep your families safe!
Photo credit: Tim Bates/Dudley-Hewitt Cup Images