Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lakers ready to open play with Patriots

WELLINGTON—After a long journey, the “Lake Show” has arrived on the shores of Lake Ontario.
The Bill Salonen Cup champion Fort Frances Lakers arrived safely in the Quinte region yesterday after a 24-hour bus ride.

Despite the long trip, the Lakers looked loose as they shook off their “bus legs” with a spirited 65-minute practice at Essroc Arena—site of the 2014 Dudley Hewitt Cup.
Joining the Lakers at the tournament are the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots (OJHL), the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (NOJHL), and the host Wellington Dukes.
The Patriots were the OJHL’s Southwestern Conference regular-season champions with a 35-12-6 record and won the Buckland Cup in six games over the Aurora Tigers.
The Gold Miners, meanwhile, captured the Copeland Cup in six games over the Soo Thunderbirds—the team club that spent most of the season atop the CJHL’s rankings.
Round-robin play, which opened this afternoon with the Lakers facing the Patriots, will eliminate one team at the conclusion of preliminary play Thursday.
The second- and third-place clubs will face off in the semi-final Friday night, with that winner then taking on the first-place team for the right to advance to the Royal Bank Cup national Junior ‘A’ championship in Vernon, B.C.
At this point, the Dudley Hewitt Cup is a tournament of unknowns as only the Patriots and Dukes know each other from OJHL play.
“We’ve gone over some video since we won the Bill Salonen championship and I’ve spoken to some contacts that know the other teams,” Lakers’ head coach Wayne Strachan said after putting his players through their paces.
“We are doing [our] best to dig down and figure what you can about the team.
“Our opponent tomorrow [Tuesday] I know the best,” Strachan said of the Patriots.
“We get to watch Wellington tomorrow night [Tuesday] and Kirkland Lake twice before we actually play them, so we’ll know a bit more about those teams as the tournament wears on,” he added.
In any tournament that brings together champions from various leagues, a “just-happy-to-be-here” mentality can take root.
Strachan said he and his coaching staff talked about this with the players.
“After we won, the statement was, ‘Let’s enjoy this tonight and it’s forgotten tomorrow,’” he noted.
“We’ve got better things to accomplish.
“And the biggest thing is to make sure the players understand that in Games 5, 6, and 7 of the Salonen Cup, we played three Game 7s, and now we are going to play Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and they’re going to be Game 7 situations,” Strachan stressed.
“The Dudley Hewitt Cup round-robin is important and we need to be focused,
prepared, and hydrated.”
After yesterday’s practice, Lakers’ captain Cody Wickstrom said the dramatic comeback after trailing the Minnesota Iron Rangers 3-1 is fuel for the fire in keeping everyone’s minds on the task at hand.
“We knew all year this is where we wanted to end up and we deserve to be here,” he remarked.
“It was such a tough series with the Iron Rangers and that really prepared us for this tournament.”
Wickstrom added the off-the-ice experience of travelling with his teammates to the Central Canadian championship has been fun.
“Off the ice, the experience has been awesome,” he enthused.
“Our volunteers and staff did a great job on the way down here, keeping us hydrated, and the bus ride was good for team bonding, as well.
After facing the Patriots this afternoon, the Lakers will square off against the host Dukes tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.
Then they’ll wrap up round-robin play against the Gold Miners on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. (all times CDT).
Up-to-the-minute updates can be found at www.dudleyhewittcup2014.com
All Laker games also will be shown live at Boston Pizza here.

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