Races remain tight in SIJHL standings

A lot can change in two months. Just ask the newly-unemployed Bruce Boudreau and Paul Maurice, for example.
But after writing in this space two months ago that the then-tight SIJHL standings could hold up until the final day of the regular season, it’s nice to see that things are staying quite close for the most part.
Although the standings obviously are not as tight as they were following the first two weekends of the season, just one point separated the top two teams going into last night’s action while there’s currently only a nine-point gap between third through sixth in the seven-team loop.
The race for top spot has been a see-saw battle over the last few weeks between the defending Bill Salonen Cup champion Wisconsin Wilderness and the Fort Frances Lakers, with the Wilderness currently holding onto the lead.
Both teams posses the most potent offences in the SIJHL so far, with the Lakers currently holding a 120-100 advantage in the goal-scoring department. But the Wilderness have the upper-hand over the entire league when it comes to goals against, having only given up 42 markers in 23 games.
With both teams set to square off here this Friday night, it’s understandable to try and determine who may have the upper hand at this point in the season. And in all honesty, it just might be the Wilderness.
Although the Lakers have been playing well of late following a dip in form earlier this month, the Wilderness have been firing on all cylinders throughout the campaign, with only four losses thus far to their name and none of them in consecutive games.
In four head-to-head meetings this season, the Wilderness hold a 3-1 advantage over the Lakers. They also currently possess a 9-0 mark at the friendly confines of the Northwest Sports Complex in Spooner.
In addition, having three games in hand over their nearest rival, along with the return of two of the top players from last year’s championship team (forward Wilson Housley and defenceman Lucas Hendrickson), make the Wilderness a squad to be feared.
That said, however, does nothing to diminish the Lakers’ play this season as they are just one of the four teams to knock off the Wilderness in a regular-season contest.
While the Wilderness are known are for their speedy forwards, the Lakers have proven to be no slouches in the goal-scoring department, with forwards Jordan Larson and Byron Katapaytuk leading the SIJHL in points.
If there is any weakness, though, it might be in the defensive play, which is something Lakers’ head coach/general manager Wayne Strachan has stated on many occasions as the team currently sits fourth in the goals against department (78).
Meanwhile, in the battle for third place in the standings, the Thunder Bay North Stars have bounced back from a slow start to move into that position with 29 points (12-7-5).
Having started the season with a shocking 0-5-2 record, this season’s Dudley Hewitt Cup hosts have been on fire since then with a 12-2-3 mark since Oct. 9, which arguably has been fuelled by the acquisition of goalie Marc Nother.
Nother, who was acquired from the OJHL’s Wellington Dukes on Oct. 12, has been outstanding since joining the North Stars, compiling a 9-3-0-1 record and a 1.99 GAA.
Behind the North Stars is a closely-fought race for fourth spot, with the Sioux Lookout Flyers currently holding that position at 25 points. But sitting just a single point back of the Flyers in fifth place are the Dryden Ice Dogs while the Duluth Clydesdales currently are in sixth with 20.
What’s interesting about all three of those teams is that they all have new coaches this season, with Brad Zangs in charge of the Flyers, Joe West running the Ice Dogs’ ship, and Chris Locker behind the bench for the Clydesdales.
With those three men now in charge for a bit, the players have started to get a hang of their systems and showing progress, especially the Flyers and the Clydesdales after they both struggled a season ago.
At the bottom of the seven-team loop are the expansion Iron Range Ironheads, who only have four points to their name (2-17-0).
However, despite being a whipping boy for the rest of the league on certain occasions, the Ironheads earned their two wins at the expense of both the Wilderness and the Lakers, and have kept their opponents honest in other meetings throughout the campaign.
While the league races might seem quite easy to figure out at this point, there’s still three months left to go in the regular season, in which a lot of things can and will transpire that will change the complexion of the standings.
And that’s before the playoffs even get underway when, as we all know, anything can happen.

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