Wayne Strachan doesn’t approach each season as though he is rebuilding, but reloading.
And the ammunition he’s chosen the past three seasons has been the most powerful in the SIJHL.
A three-day training camp which starts tomorrow marks the beginning of Strachan’s attempt, as head coach and general manager of the Fort Frances Lakers, to put together a new roster of both familiar and fresh faces that will try to capture the squad’s fourth-straight league title.
Minus seven of his top eight point-getters last season, including SIJHL scoring champ and MVP Dylan Robertson, it would be easy to picture Strachan having a few sleepless nights going into the new campaign.
Not so, he says.
“We have accomplished a lot in a short period of time with our program,” Strachan remarked.
“I am not sure it is pressure so much to build a team to repeat,” he noted.
“It’s more like the want and will to create that team to win again.
“It’s contagious and once you taste that feeling, and see what it does to the family you put together for that season, you want nothing less,” he added.
Still, Strachan conceded creating that desire is not done overnight.
“Camp will be our first look at who will stick and compete to be here for the season,” he said.
“However, we will make adjustments to the team where we feel necessary all season.
“I believe we will start in the right direction and build in the next few weeks to improve our chances of having a good start, and going about our business from there,” he reasoned.
Strachan expected 40 players to be in camp, including 22 forwards, 12 defencemen, and six goalies.
“We still have some players we have recruited trying their luck out west, so we may be adding more as camp goes on or next week,” he noted.
With no rookie tryout camp held for a second-straight summer, Strachan planned to make the most of this first look at those vying for a roster spot.
“I don’t believe we are too concerned about it,” he said.
“It is what it is, and we will get through camp and continue to build our team to where we need to be to remain a top team in the SIJHL.
“One thing the prospect camp offers is a chance to grab a young guy early, or get a guy signed and locked into the roster before he gets away, which has hurt us with some American players this season,” Strachan added.
“It also lets you wean some players out so main training camp is intense and competitive.”
At least nine players who saw at least some time with the Lakers last season will be in camp.
They include leading returning scorer Dylan Kooner (33 points in 29 games) and fellow forwards Jack Bernie, Matt Tustin, Julian Uhryniuk, Jaden Gustafson, and Tanner Garnham.
Joining them are defencemen Brandon Zajicek and Izzy Smith, along with goalie Brandon Bodnar.
“If Kooner can return and compete like he is capable when healthy, he should have a strong year,” Strachan predicted.
“We will need Uhryniuk, Tustin, and Bernie to add to what they brought last year in more key roles this season,” he noted.
“If Gustafson and Garnham continue to grow their games like they did in the latter part of the season and playoffs, it gives us good depth to build around.
“We have ‘Bods’ and Zajicek back in net and defence, and I believe we have added some defence that will make us competitive back there,” added Strachan.
“Izzy Smith will be in camp and a player to keep an eye on.”
Thunder Bay-based brothers Matthew and Travis Glomba, who played one game with the Lakers last season as Midget ‘AAA’ call-ups, are uncertain to return at this point.
Strachan said Matthew, a forward, is dealing with an injury right now while Travis, a defenceman, isn’t sure what he wants to do for the upcoming season.
He also revealed that forward Ryley Bosman, who was eligible to return, decided to return home to Calgary and play for the Mount Royal Cougars of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.
The Lakers will have just two test runs of its squad before the regular season in exhibition games against the Thunder Bay North Stars on Sept. 10 there and then on Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena here.
“I wish it was more,” admitted Strachan.
“We had four scheduled, but with the late coaching change of the Minnesota Iron Rangers [Chris Walby stepped down as GM and head coach and was replaced by Jesse Davis], it has prompted their new coach to postpone the two games we had scheduled against them,” he noted.
“We are hoping maybe one will still be played, however that has not been confirmed as of [yesterday].”
The regular season begins Sept. 23 with the Lakers hosting the expansion Thief River Falls Norskies.
In related news, Strachan said the team still is looking for a trainer/manager to replace Dale Cooper, who resigned from the position during the off-season.
Anyone interested can e-mail Strachan at firstname.lastname@example.org