It's beginning to look a little rosier when it comes to the future of the Fort Frances Lakers.
Financial records presented at the team's annual general meeting Monday evening at the Super 8 Motel here revealed the club had $4,277.73 in its bank account at the end of the fiscal year (April 30), with outstanding bills from 2017 totalling nearly $10,000.
That's a far cry from where things sat at this time last year, when the franchise was running a deficit of $54,725.78.
“Financially, we're getting closer to . . . where we're at a break-even point,” said Lakers' president Milt Strachan.
“We're not there yet but we're getting closer in a year where it wasn't a great year for us.”
Strachan conceded the Lakers had a tough year on the ice due to a variety of factors.
“It was a year from hell on the ice [right] from the start,” he remarked.
"With the injuries, trades that fell through, kids that didn't want to show up and there wasn't anything you could do about a couple of those.
“It just seemed that everything that could go wrong did and yet we ended up in a pretty good, from what we had, showing,” added Strachan, referring to the Lakers reaching the SIJHL semi-finals before bowing out against the top-ranked Dryden GM Ice Dogs.
“There were three teams in our league [Ice Dogs, Thief River Falls Norskies, and Thunder Bay North Stars] that would probably be top-20 quality in our country and we were in tough,” Strachan conceded.
“We didn't have the guns to go against those guys.”
Lakers' head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan then gave his thoughts on last season and the off-season plans he has for the team.
“As for the year, Milt kind of touched on it, [we had] a very slow start,” he noted.
“Throughout the year, I hate to say it but we had a lot of character issues and character issues that we unfortunately couldn't really deal with in manner that maybe we have in the past due to numbers or injuries and, as Milt touched on, trades with guys not reporting.”
Wayne Strachan said it was good to see a lot the players develop and that they had success in the playoffs that wasn't a foregone conclusion going in.
“We came up short against Dryden,” he noted, referring to the team's semi-final series loss in five games.
“But if anyone saw the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Dryden was right there to possibly win it.”
Strachan also said he's been recruiting new players for several months now in preparation for next season.
“I've been to a showcase in Minneapolis, there was a couple of championships in Thunder Bay, I attended the Midget one,” he noted.
"We had a scout there for the junior 'B' one and I was supposed to go to Winnipeg this past week but it was cancelled.
“I'm looking at some other options in Canada," he added. "I'm not really coming up with anything close to us so I don't know what we can do there.”
The Lakers can start signing players as of this Friday and can begin negotiating trades on June 10.
“We're definitely looking at bringing back several players” Strachan stressed.
“I'm not sure what we're going to do in goal yet [but] on defence, we're going to bring back five of the six guys,” he revealed.
“Three are, for sure, committed to coming back, I think that one of our 19-year-olds that could attend is going to commit to school, and then another guy has requested to play closer to home.”
Up front, Strachan thinks about nine forwards could return next season, including the Muskie boys' players who joined the squad at the end of the season.
“I'm hoping that we get at least seven back," he remarked. "We're working on a couple of them, obviously, to see if they're going to come back.”
Strachan believes if the players they already have reached out to commit to the team, they'll be in good shape heading into next season.
“I guess we'll see what comes about in a trade, on the trade wire and whatnot," he noted. ”There's a few players trickling on there now.
"So I'll continue to watch it and see if anything fits what we're looking for.
“One thing I would like to do with the team next year is be a little more involved in the community, keep them [the players] busier and maybe do things with the mental health society and different organizations in town,” Strachan added.
“Maybe that will draw more people and we can do different things to draw people,” he reasoned.
The Lakers will be holding a tryout camp July 6-8 at the Lake of the Woods Arena in Baudette, Mn.
All 2018 camp itinerary and registration information can be found by visiting the Lakers' website at www.fortfranceslakers.com and by clicking on the 2018 Camps tab.
The SIJHL will hold its annual general meeting here in Fort Frances on July 11, followed by the Lakers holding their main training camp Aug. 30-Sept.1.
The SIJHL regular season begins Sept. 21, with the rest of the schedule to be determined in the near future.
In related news, the team also confirmed the annual Bob Mainville Memorial golf tournament will be held July 14 at Kitchen Creek.