SIJHL team season preview: Fort Frances Lakers

THUNDER BAY, Ont. – As the dean of coaches in the Superior International Junior Hockey League, there is not too much Wayne Strachan has not accomplished in his extended tenure with the Fort Frances Lakers.

Having won more games than any other head coach in SIJHL history, Strachan, who also handle general manager duties, continues to work with his hometown Fort Frances side.

Boasting a trio of Bill Salonen Cup league championships and earning a record five SIJHL Coach of the Year Award honours, about the only thing remaining is winning a Dudley-Hewitt Cup title.

Strachan will have an another opportunity in achieving that as his Lakers squad serve as the host team for the 2020 DHC, April 28 through May 2, at Ice for Kids Arena.

Prior to that though, he’ll lead his team into the start of the 2019-20 SIJHL regular season, which gets underway Friday on three fronts, including Fort Frances hosting the Thief River Falls Norskies at 7:30 p.m. CT.

With a look at his club, through the eyes of their veteran bench boss, here is the second of six SIJHL-compiled team previews, that today features the Fort Frances Lakers.

SIJHL: What expectations do you have for your club entering the 2019-20 season?

WAYNE STRACHAN: We want to win the SIJHL Bill Salonen Cup Championship. We also want to represent the SIJHL and Town of Fort Frances with a strong showing in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup.

SIJHL: How has training camp gone so far and what have you seen from the players that stands out?

WS: Overall training camp has been very competitive and although we haven’t found a lot of success through preseason, we are getting better each day. I like that the players have bought into working hard and have clearly identified what it is going to take to be a successful hockey team. I like our speed and skill to start the season.

SIJHL: Who are a couple of returning players that you look for to play a pivotal role on the club?

WS: Noah Loveday will be relied heavily on for leadership and to lead by example. He is a player that understands the game and will do anything for his team to have success. He plays a strong 200-foot game and is poised to have a strong year. Noah is entering his third year in the league and has played close to 100 games for us. Nick Hahkala is another hard-working guy, who like Noah, understands what Laker hockey is all about. He plays a hard game nightly, battles and is reliable in both ends of the rink. He will be looked upon to play a bigger role come this year with our program.

SIJHL: Who are some of the new players you’ve signed that you expect to perform well in the SIJHL?

WS: Jack Lane will be heavily replied upon for offensive production. He skates well, works hard and has great vision offensively. He brings good size and is strong on the puck. He was also over a point-per-game player playing junior in New Jersey last season. Also, Flynn Perry will be relied upon as a veteran presence in the line up. He has the potential for a breakout year at the Junior A ranks and we are happy to add him to our roster. He played in the MJHL in 2018-19. We are also excited to see what Ben Hoefler can bring to our program. He has all the tools to be a great addition and a big part of our line up. He has game breaking speed and as he adjusts to the speed and skill of Junior A he is certain to get better fir us.

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

WS: Our first goal will be to get better each and everyday as people and athletes in the game. We want to win our first home game and build off that each and every day throughout the year. We want to be dedicated and loyal to our culture and strive to be good people in our community.

SIJHL: How has being named host of the 2020 Dudley-Hewitt Cup changed your focus on building your roster?

WS: It has changed our train of thought completely. We were looking to recruit young and build for 2022 when we were hoping to host. However, in the past few weeks since the announcement that we will be the 2020 hosts of the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, we now know we will have to bring in veteran players that are willing their buy into what we are setting out to accomplish this year.

SIJHL: As the dean of SIJHL coaches, how do you feel the league has changed in your time involved in it?

WS: Each and every franchise in the league has made a commitment to hiring people and coaches that will lead their teams with the utmost respect for the game. With that, the quality of players has increased. The parity in the league is strong and you see that by the number of players that are moving on to higher levels year-after-year.