Parity prevalent in SIJHL early into season

Sure, we’re only two weeks into the season. But trying to figure out who is going to come out with a win on any given night in the SIJHL so far is an awful lot like trying to discover a cure for the common cold.
Looking at the scoreboard on the league website each game night has shown many close games—and surprises—in the early going. And the standings are still very tight right now, which are sentiments echoed by Fort Frances Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“Everyone’s beating everybody right now,” he noted.
“That’s good for the league and good for the fans as they know they are going to see some good hockey, and that on any given night anyone can win, so hopefully that continues,” he added.
Having played more games than anyone else so far (six), the Lakers have a league-best four wins to help them lead the seven-team loop with eight points, with rookie forward Jordan Larson pacing the league with 13 points.
However, three of those victories have come from the Lakers staging late-game comebacks, which has led Strachan to believe his team hasn’t reached its full potential yet.
If that’s the case, the Lakers truly could be a scary team as the season wears on.
Occupying second-place heading into last night’s game between Dryden and Sioux Lookout were the Wisconsin Wilderness, who only have lost one of their four games thus far in the campaign (to the Lakers here Friday night).
The defending Bill Salonen Cup champs are a much younger team than the one that dominated the SIJHL a year ago, with many players heading off to college or going to teams in the NAHL and USHL.
But the Wilderness again are employing the same strategy that led to their success last season, with speedy forwards helping to provide the offence.
In third place are the Dryden Ice Dogs, who, despite a coaching switch from Clint Mylymok to Joe West just prior to the season, have seen good performances from veteran forwards Jesse Linner, Thomas Greene, and Bryce Maggrah to help them with their good start.
Another team off to a great start with a new coach is the Sioux Lookout Flyers, who now have Brad Zangs in charge behind the bench.
Their two wins so far this season have come against two of the top teams in the league in the Lakers and the Thunder Bay North Stars, thanks, in large part, to the play of goalie Jayme Brattengeier, who made 49 saves in Sioux Lookout’s 4-1 victory over the North Stars on Saturday evening.
Having just started their regular season over the weekend, the second-year Duluth Clydesdales kicked things off on the right note Friday with a victory over Sioux Lookout. And despite losing their next two games to Dryden and Fort Frances, the currently hold down fifth place in the standings.
Perhaps the biggest surprise so far is the fact that the perennial league powerhouse Thunder Bay North Stars have yet to win a game in three tries, and currently sit sixth in the standings.
After seeing a 3-1 lead slip away before losing in a shootout to the Lakers in their season-opener here Sept. 16, this year’s Dudley Hewitt Cup host then fell to both Dryden and Sioux Lookout over the weekend in their quest to capture their first win of the season.
But coach Todd Howarth pointed out following their loss to Fort Frances that his squad is the youngest in the entire league this year, so I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see this team become a tough opponent for everyone else—and to also rise in the standings.
The only team yet to take the ice so far this season is the expansion Iron Range Ironheads, who will play their first SIJHL contest in Duluth on Friday night before coming here next Tuesday (Oct. 4).
No one really quite knows what exactly the Ironheads will bring to the table and how they will preform this season. But given the way everything else has gone so far in the early stages of the campaign, I’m sure no one is going to take them lightly.
Look, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and there still is an awfully long way to go before the season shakes itself out.
But if things keep up at this pace, we may not know who will face who in the playoffs before the final game.

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