Lakers looking good in race for second

While the loss of the Duluth Clydesdales certainly doesn’t help things for the SIJHL in the long-term, the now five-team league does have one thing going for it right now.
And that is one heck of a battle brewing from second place on back in the standings as four teams fight out it for playoff position.
With the Minnesota Wilderness, the second-ranked team in the entire CJHL, having already clinched home-ice advantage for the post-season, the other four teams currently are separated by just four points heading into last night’s game between the Minnesota Iron Rangers and Fort Frances Lakers.
Over the last few weeks, the ebb and flow between the Lakers, Iron Rangers, Dryden Ice Dogs, and Thunder Bay North Stars has been interesting to watch, with all four teams switching places at a quicker rate than a game of musical chairs.
The ongoing jockeying for position is especially important, considering how the SIJHL playoffs are formatted this season.
With only five teams left in the league, those that finish in the top three spots earn straight byes to the semi-finals while the fourth- and fifth-place squads will square off in a best-of-three showdown to determine who advances to the semis.
From there, things won’t get any easier for the lowest-seeded team, who will have to take on the Wilderness in the semi-finals.
As evidenced by their play over the last few months, you really don’t want to face the situation of having to play the Wilderness, thus making a second seed for the post-season an absolute paramount.
So who is in the best shape to earn that elusive spot in the post-season once the regular-season slate comes to its conclusion March 9? In my opinion, it’s the Fort Frances Lakers.
The local squad has shown some improvement of late and also earned two big wins on the road and here at home over the Ice Dogs, against whom they had struggled to close out games this season.
Offensively, the top line of Colton Spicer, Merritt Rysavy, and Jordan Christianson have dominated the opposition in recent weeks, with Christianson earning the SIJHL’s player-of-the-month honours for January.
But it’s not just those three who have been making an impact lately. Alex Bruess, Patrick Sofer, and Jacob Nolan, among others, all have contributed with key goals when the team has needed them most.
And recent additions Tyler Brodersen and Simon Desrosiers already are becoming go-to players on their new squad, with both registering seven points in seven games.
At the back end, the recent acquisition of goalie Talor Joseph from the AJHL has been a good one, with the 18-year-old sporting a perfect 3-0 record thus far between the pipes for the Lakers.
While having three goalies (Joseph, Tanner Hamilton, and Jameson Shortreed) isn’t the most desirable situation, it does allow the Lakers to switch things up if one of them struggles down the stretch.
As of late, the Lakers also have been a more consistent club compared to some of their woes early in the campaign, which is a good sign going into the playoffs.
While the North Stars are a shadow of their former dominance, the Ice Dogs and Iron Rangers have been playing solid hockey of late, which makes every game a critical one.
The biggest factor that the Lakers have at their advantage, though, is the schedule. Compared to everyone else in the league, the Lakers have a number of games in hand over their rivals, with nine left in their 54-game slate.
That gives them a golden opportunity to gain points on their rivals—and a great shot of nabbing that all-important second seed.
Head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan has said on many occasions that a top-two seed has been a goal for the Lakers since the start of the campaign.
If all goes well, they just might accomplish that.

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