The difficult road to get back atop the SIJHL standings already has begun for the Fort Frances Lakers.
But head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan is hopeful a slew of local players will help make that trip back up the mountain an easier one.
Last week, Strachan announced the signings of local forwards Kaleb Bruyere and Kendyn Faragher from the Muskie boys' hockey program.
Bruyere suited up in 12 games for the black-and-gold last season, racking up seven goals and 10 assists.
“Kaleb is a young guy who has a lot of talent,” Strachan said of the 16-year-old.
"He skates well, has a good skill set, has size, and once he learns further how to use it, he can bring many different aspects to a team.
“He wants to be a Laker and further his development at home, which makes our program a good fit for him,” Strachan added.
“We look forward to watching him grow as one of the youngest players in the SIJHL next season.”
Faragher also played in 12 games for the Muskies last season, garnering six goals and four assists.
The 18-year-old also appeared in three regular-season games with the Lakers, going scoreless over that span.
He also was held off the scoresheet in his lone post-season game with the club.
“Kendyn played some regular-season and one playoff game with us last season, so he knows what to expect at this level,” Strachan reasoned.
"He is working extremely hard this off-season to help his game and development.
“He will add size, depth, and hard work to our lineup," Strachan said of the 6'0”, 200-pound recent Fort High graduate.
“We are happy Kendyn wants to be home and join our Lakers' program and family.”
Also announced last week was the return of forward James Gushulak. After joining the Lakers in early January, the 17-year-old tallied four goals and two assists in 20 games.
Gushulak also chipped in with two helpers in nine playoff games.
“James played the better part of the second half of the year for us last season and gradually improved through the 20 or so games under his belt,” noted Strachan.
"He is a player with a big upside offensively, he is quick, and we believe that with more practice time this season with us, he can develop his game.
“Good to have you back, James, in the red, black, and white,” Strachan enthused.
The Lakers, meanwhile, last week traded forward Christian Ward to the English River Miners in exchange for a player development fee.
Ward originally was acquired by the Lakers in early December from the Oklahoma City Blazers (WSHL).
He registered eight goals and seven assists in 32 regular-season games with Fort Frances before being held scoreless in six playoff games.
In related news, the SIJHL announced its 2018-19 regular-season schedule last week.
The 168-game slate will start on Thursday, Sept. 20 and conclude on Saturday, March 16.
Opening night will feature the Thief River Falls Norskies hosting the Minnesota Iron Rangers at 7 p.m. at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The following evening, the two-time defending SIJHL champion Dryden GM Ice Dogs will host the Lakers while the Miners welcome the Thunder Bay North Stars to Cochenour Arena in a pair of 7:30 p.m. starts.
The Lakers' home-opener is slated for Friday, Sept. 28, when they welcome the Minnesota Iron Rangers to the Ice For Kids Arena at 7:30 p.m.
All told, each SIJHL squad will play 27 regular-season games at home and another 27 as the visiting club.
As well, all six teams will play twice at the SIJHL “Showcase,” which will be held Jan. 29-30 in a yet-to-be-announced venue.
The Lakers will play the North Stars and Iron Rangers at the “Showcase.”
The SIJHL also will host its annual all-star game on Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m., the location of which also will be confirmed at a later date.
Fort Frances will play just one afternoon game during the upcoming regular season, when it hosts a “Family Day” matinee on Monday, Feb. 18 at 2:30 p.m. versus the Iron Rangers.