Come Monday, the Fort Frances Lakers just might be staring down at the rest of the SIJHL.
The second-place Lakers (23-11-3) head into a pair of home games this weekend only two points behind the league-leading Wisconsin Wilderness (24-6-3), who will have to fight fatigue as they face three games in three days.
Fort Frances hosts the last-place Duluth Clydesdales (9-26-2) tonight at the Ice For Kids Arena at 7:30 p.m., followed by another 7:30 p.m. match-up tomorrow against the fourth-place Thunder Bay North Stars (22-16-1).
Wisconsin, which has played a league-low 33 games this so far, is on the road tonight against the fifth-place Sioux Lookout Flyers (8-23-5) and tomorrow against the third-place Dryden Ice Dogs (24-14) before having to hurry home to play Duluth on Sunday.
The Lakers nipped the Clydesdales 3-2 here last Friday night and will look to continue their dominance in the season series (seven wins in eight games).
The numbers would indicate that outcome is likely.
Duluth is a woeful 3-17 on the road this season while Fort Frances is a solid 13-4-2 on home ice. In 37 games for both teams this season, the Lakers have outscored the Clydesdales 140-94 while only allowing 109 goals compared to a league-high 169 by Duluth.
Special teams also may be a sore point for the Clydesdales tonight as they rank dead last in the SIJHL on the power play (11.26 percent) and penalty killing (75 percent).
The Lakers, on the other hand, is the most lethal squad with the man advantage (27.43 percent) and is second-best when shorthanded (85.45 percent).
Meanwhile, the two-time defending champion North Stars have fallen on what is for them hard times this season.
The team’s seven-year run as the Fort William North Stars ended abruptly in October, when the team folded and had its whole roster transferred to a new ownership group, which led to the team’s rebirth as the Thunder Bay North Stars.
The North Stars and Lakers have battled tooth-and-nail so far this season, with Thunder Bay holding a slim 5-4 edge.
Mitch Forbes has been the driving force behind Thunder Bay’s offence so far, sitting in a tie for ninth in the SIJHL scoring race with 12 goals and 24 assists.
He has been helped up front by Riley Marsh (10-19-29) and Dan Usiski (14-10-24).
Guillaume Piche, sporting an 8-12 record along with a 3.00 goals against average and .880 save percentage, has had a subpar season.
He may, in fact, soon be supplanted as the regular starter by Jay Pelletier, who is 10-3-0-1 with a 2.53 GAA and .904 save percentage.