With every new hockey season comes optimism, hopes, and goals. For the Fort Frances Lakers those new aspirations changed a bit in late August when the Canadian Junior Hockey League awarded the franchise the right to host the 2020 Dudley-Hewitt Cup. What might have been seen as a ‘rebuilding season’ suddenly became one with much higher ambitions.
The Central Canadian Jr. A Championship is rotated between the three leagues competing – Superior International Junior Hockey League, Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League and Ontario Junior Hockey League – with the OJHL due to host in 2020. That changed at the end of last season when sanctions were levied on the league for roster deadline errors. Along with a $50,000 fine the OJHL may not host either the Dudley-Hewitt or Centennial Cup national tournament for five years.
After seeing six players advance to the college hockey ranks, Fort Frances expected to put a younger roster together. Now the team begins the season with goals of challenging for a league championship.
Over the weekend the season got off to a great start as the Lakers who swept a home-and-home series against the Thief River Falls Norskies. Preseason favorite and defending league champion Thunder Bay North Stars also won their first two games to see the teams tied atop the standings after one week of SIJHL action.
Fort Frances thrilled the home crowd in the season opener on September 20 with an exciting 8-2 victory. Seven different players scored with Kenora Thistles product Ethan Carlson-Jourdain netting a pair along with one helper.
18-year old goaltender Alex Bugeja made 35 saves in his Lakers debut to earn the victory. A native of British Columbia, Bugeja comes to Fort Frances after a prep career with the Okanagan Hockey Academy.
The setting changed the following night as the two teams faced off in Thief River Falls. It took 40 minutes for the Lakers to get going in this one with the rematch on a bigger ice sheet and following a three-hour bus ride. The Norskies scored just :37 into the third period to take a 2-0 advantage.
Facing a two-goal deficit lit a fire in the Lakers who responded with a goal scored by New Jersey-born Jack Lane at 3:56. Just over four minutes later Ben Hoefler scored his second of the season to tie the game at 2-2.
A late penalty was called on the Lakers who killed off the Norskies advantage and sent the game to overtime. It would take just 2:12 of the extra frame before MJHL/SJHL veteran Matthew Dyck scored the game winner to complete the comeback victory and all four points on the weekend.
— Fort Frances Lakers (@FF_Lakers) September 22, 2019
Next up for the Lakers is another home-and-home series with their rival Dryden Ice Dogs. Fort Frances will host on Friday before the teams travel north to wrap the series on Saturday night.