SIJHL preseason preview: Fort Frances Lakers



Release Date: Monday, Sept. 19, 2016

SIJHL preseason preview: Fort Frances Lakers

THUNDER BAY, Ont. – The fifth of sixth Superior International Junior Hockey League team preseason previews features the three-time defending Bill Salonen Cup champion Fort Frances Lakers.

Under the guidance of five-time SIJHL coach of the year Wayne Strachan, Fort Frances has been all but dominant in the league rolling to three straight titles as well as a berth in the finals in five consecutive years.

This will mark Strachan’s 12th season behind the bench for his hometown side, including his eighth with the Lakers. He also coached the club when they were formerly the Borderland Thunder and Fort Frances Jr. Sabres.

Winners of a franchise record 46 games last season, the Lakers will look continue their winning ways in 2016-17.

Boasting a solid core of returning players along with a good mix of newcomers, you can expect the club to once again be among the top teams in both the SIJHL and the Canadian Junior Hockey League where they were slotted sixth nationally in the CJHL preseason rankings.


Head Coach/GM: Wayne Strachan (12th season)

Last season’s record: 46-8-0-2 (1st overall)

SIJHL: What can your fans expect to see from your club this season?

WAYNE STRACHAN: We hope to play an upbeat tempo, puck-possession game. We also want to be stronger defensively than last year and be able to use our depth throughout the lineup.

SIJHL: Who are some of the players you expect to lead your team this season?

WS: Dylan Kooner has had 78 points for us in 85 games over the past two seasons and another 15 in the playoffs. He was also one of our top performers at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup.

Returnees Matt Tustin, Brandon Zajicek and Julian Uhryniuk will also need to perform for us in order to be successful as will newcomer Jared Virtanen.

SIJHL: Who are a couple of returning players you expect big things from in 2016-17?

WS: Along with Dylan Kooner, Matt Tustin and Brandon Zajicek, goaltender Brandon Bodnar is among the group we want to see have solid seasons for our team. Brandon had 18 wins for us last season and he led the league in both goals-against average (1.94) and save percentage (.935) along with having a couple of shutouts.

SIJHL: Who are some of the newcomers you’ve signed that you’ve been impressed with?

WS: Three of our recruits that the coaching staff has really liked in preseason and practice are defenceman Maverick Lynes (Creston Valley Thunder Cats-KIJHL) along with forwards Jared Virtanen (Victoria Grizzlies-BCHL) and Tyler Malpass (Blaine High School). Lynes had 15 points on defence in the KIJHL last year and he also saw some time in the MJHL. Virtanen played in both the BCHL and AJHL last season and is a 20-year-old with some skill. As for Malpass he joins us out of the highly competitive Minnesota High School ranks.

SIJHL: What do you expect from all your players heading into the 2016-17 campaign?

WS: We want a team that works hard, plays at a high tempo and is accountable on the ice. We need to play and compete to our strengths and battle hard defensively versus all of our opponents.

SIJHL: What is one feature you feel your club will provide this season?

WS: Speed. We want to be fast and use it in quick transition to attack our opponents.

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

WS: Our first goal will be to win Game No. 1 at home. Having experienced the success that we have had the last few years is contagious. We want to be battling hard to continue that trend in the playoffs.

Fort Frances kicks off the regular season Friday at home as they welcome the Thief River Falls Norskies to Ice for Kids Arena at 7:30 p.m. for that expansion club’s first SIJHL game.