WELLINGTON, Ont. – The 2014 Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Canada Jr. A championship begins today in Wellington, Ont., and the Superior International Junior Hockey League winning Fort Frances Lakers are set to take to the ice in the opening game of the four-team event at Essroc Arena.
After an arduous 23-hour trek from Fort Frances to Wellington, which is just south of Belleville, Ont., on the northern shores of Lake Ontario, that featured five stops and multiple drivers along the way, the Lakers will get a stiff test in the DHC opener as they take on the Ontario Junior Hockey League champion Toronto Lakeshore Patriots at 2:30 p.m.
In entering the tourney the game plan has not changed from the one that led to success in the league this season.
“Obviously not much has changed from our first goal this season which was to try and capture a SIJHL championship,” offered Fort Frances head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan when discussing what he expects from his club this week.
“We’ll just take one game at a time and we’re a team that believes we can have success and believes in one another’s abilities,” added the Lakers bench boss.
If we can do that, I believe our team can play with anyone and success can come our way if we’re working hard and we are outplaying our opponents.”
In making their first-ever Dudley-Hewitt appearance in Lakers’ franchise history, it is a new experience for the players and the majority of the coaching staff.
“It’s our first time here, so we’re not really too sure what to expect once we hit the ice, but we believe and we’re here to have success and hopefully it comes our way,” stated Strachan.
Fort Frances will look to build on the momentum the squad gained by storming back to win the final three games against the Minnesota Iron Rangers to capture their first-ever Bill Salonen Cup SIJHL title here at the five-day event, which the team sees a positive.
“I think obviously it was a big way to come into a competition like this,” said the Lakers coach and GM.
“We’re going to play three real good hockey teams and each day is going to different, but if we can put the effort in like we had in games 5, 6 and 7 vs. the Iron Rangers I believe it can only help.”
In terms of keys to success the SIJHL champs have deemed necessary to succeed in Wellington this week, Strachan believes much will lie with what they’ve done all season.
“Sticking to our game plan, being focused and be prepared to step our game up to play the best teams from the other leagues. If we can use our speed, we can hopefully cause some turnovers and take advantage.”
With success as a player, winning a Dudley-Hewitt Cup as a player with the Thunder Bay Flyers in 1991 as well as a pair of NCAA championships at Lake Superior State University following that, Strachan knows full well what it takes to win in this type of short event.
“Once the tournament starts, you’ve got to perform, stated the SIJHL coach of the year.
“We’ve tried to instill that in our player’s minds and we hope they believe what we are saying, what we are telling them game-plan wise and they go out and play to their abilities.”
It is a pretty common principle in tourneys like the Dudley-Hewitt Cup that in order to win your best players have to be just that when called upon.
Strachan knows he’ll need his top performers during the season to produce if they want to have any chance at earning a berth to the RBC Cup national championship, which will go to the DHC winner.
“Lucas Debenedet, Lyndon Lipinski and Mason Meyer have been our catalysts all year. What they did in games 6 and 7 against the Iron Rangers really solidified our chance in winning the championship.”
The Lakers’ leader also big expectations from his club’s defensive game.
“Our defensive corps, all six, have to be strong. We believe they can play with anyone and they are going to have to be at their best, moving their feet and playing well and getting the puck out of our zone.”
Strachan also knows he has two quality goaltenders in Jordan Cartney and Devin Tappenden to call upon to man the nets.
“Whatever goalie is going to go we’ll need them to make that big save for us when we need it as we try to gut-out a victory.
While other round robin games vs. the host Wellington Dukes on Wednesday and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (NOJHL) Thursday, Fort Frances is taking it one game at a time.
“We’re focused on our first opponent (Toronto Lakeshore) and honestly haven’t looked past them,” states Strachan.
“Most of our early commitment has been against them and we think we have a pretty good grasp on their game plan what they are going to try and do against us and what we’re going to try and do to counter that.”
The long journey behind them the Lakers had some final pre-tourney preparations upon arrival.
“We had a good practice Monday. It took us awhile to get our legs moving but once we did the guys were zipping the puck around pretty good and it was up tempo.”
Not letting the travel play a role in his club’s mind-set, Strachan knows it is simply time to play.
“We’re here now. The guys had a good night’s rest, we got a couple of good meals into us and it’s time to take care of business.”