The Fort Frances Lakers' organization wants the team to be championship-calibre by the time the season is over.
But it's going to take a complete buy-in from every player and the level of play needs to dramatically improve if they are to get to that stage as a group.
That's the message that Lakers' head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan delivered to his team after a lifeless effort in a 5-1 loss to the defending SIJHL champion Thunder Bay North Stars on Friday night here.
“The first thing is I wanted their input and what they thought, especially you know, we've lost three in a row here, we're playing the top team tonight and we just didn't have enough to compete with them,” he noted after the game, where the players and coaches had a lengthy and passionate discussion in the dressing room to address some of the issues currently plaguing the team.
"We've proven we can, and we have, and I just wanted to see where they're at. They're obviously disappointed, they know what they need to work on and they know what they need to do better.
“Basically it comes down to 20 guys buying into the process, I guess, in our identity and working hard, competing hard, playing fast,” Strachan stressed.
“Being aggressive and we don't have that consistently yet and there's certain guys we rely on game to game and they normally bring it game to game, or contribute game to game, and we need more guys to step up in that locker room.”
Strachan feels that his squad has some younger players that don't quite get those team concepts yet and haven't bought into the team's style of play and it's something that needs to quickly change.
“They don't understand that they have to buy into the systems and what it takes at this level and we have guys in there that are just out playing selfish and don't understand the team game and what it means to be on a team and compete for that team nightly to have success,” he noted.
“We got a quick turnaround here, we gotta learn some things fast and we're not going to an easy rink to win a hockey game,” he added of Saturday night's game at the Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay, where the Lakers again fell by a 4-1 count.
“There was a lot of good things said by some of the leaders on the team and even some other guys that you sometimes don't hear from, which is good that they're voicing their opinion and the coaching staff just kind of reiterated what a lot of them said and we gotta move past tonight, forget about it.”
Another rough start for the Lakers on Friday night had them trailing 4-0 not even 30 minutes into their “Pink The Rink” game at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Jayden Mrakic, Jacob Brown, Cody Bruchkowski, and Joel Willan all lit the lamp to put the first-place North Stars (12-1-1) firmly in control.
Clad in pink jerseys to help support breast cancer awareness, the Lakers (7-8-1) finally got on the board before the middle frame was complete when Flynn Perry's seventh of the season completed a set-up from linemates Jack Lane and Noah Loveday.
The North Stars rounded out the scoring in the third off a late dump-in from Kyler Belluz that Lakers' goalie Alex Bugeja couldn't control, allowing the puck to find a waiting Ben Erwin, who buried his sixth into the open side to finish things off.
Thunder Bay also held a 42-27 edge in shots with Jordan Smith picking up the win while Bugeja suffered the loss.
While the effort was better on Saturday night, it was the North Stars who again came out on top by a 4-1 count at the Fort William Gardens.
Despite pumping 16 shots on Lakers' goalie Dylan Kosik in the first period, the North Stars could not solve him.
But they did finally connect four minutes into the second frame, however, as Evan Nicholas slammed home his third of the season from close range.
A North Stars' power play helped them go up by a pair at 15:52 when Jacob Brown went top shelf to the left of Kosik.
The Lakers finally got on the board later in the second on a man advantage opportunity of their own as Lane calmly drifted towards the net and neatly wired one high from a sharp angle over the shoulder of North Stars' goalie Seth McKay to trim it to 2-1 after 40 minutes.
“Somewhat of a better effort but I believe things we cannot control got the best of us, our focus could have been better,” Strachan admitted.
“I just didn't think we had enough urgency in our game to prevail.”
Some nice passing from Robert Tyska and Nikolas Campbell helped affiliate player Kyler Belluz notch his first SIJHL goal midway through the third as Thunder Bay went up by three.
Campbell then snapped in a high shot at 17:47 to round out the scoring for the hosts.
McKay turned aside 31 shots to earn the win while Kosik made 34 saves in a losing cause for Fort Frances.
“We need more out of many of our players,” Strachan stressed.
“A week of hard work and we need concentration on the little things that can make us successful.”
The fourth-place Lakers will look to snap their four-game losing skid on Friday when they welcome the fifth-place Dryden GM Ice Dogs (7-9-1) at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
Fort Frances then will cap the week the following night with another home game against the visiting third-ranked Thief River Falls Norskies (7-7-2), also at 7:30 p.m.