Sometimes it’s nice to be proven wrong

One of the dangers as a sports writer is to make predictions and statements that can come back to blow up in your face.
All I have to do is take a look back at my predictions column prior to the start of last year’s baseball season to see how wrong I was.
However, there are times when it’s nice to be proven wrong, which is what has happened to me in events that have taken place both locally and elsewhere over the past week.
On the local scene, the month of November and the early part of December saw the Fort Frances Lakers go into a sudden slump after a hot start to the SIJHL season, going 6-7-2 during the span.
In this space, I wondered whether or not the team was good enough to keep pace with the defending SIJHL champion Wisconsin Wilderness, or whether teams such as the Thunder Bay North Stars would overtake them in their quest to reach the Dudley Hewitt Cup.
Well, fast-forward a few weeks and things most certainly have changed.
Heading into last night’s game here against the Sioux Lookout Flyers, the Lakers had won their last four contests, three of which took place in Thunder Bay against the North Stars.
Thanks to those wins, the red-and-white not only have widened the gap between themselves and North Stars to 13 points, but they also have maintained a seven-point gap with the Wilderness for the league lead.
So what’s led to the quick turnaround?
In actuality, it’s come from a variety of things, with Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan emphasizing the fact that the squad has outworked and out-pressured their opponents, along with staying disciplined.
Offensively, the top scoring team in the SIJHL has lived up to its billing as of late, lighting the lamp six times in three of their wins while the other triumph saw them score a “lowly” five times.
At the other end of the rink, the defensive play of the Lakers has been more solid in recent weeks, with newcomers Brandon Fehd and Steve Terry getting used to their new teammates, while goalies Tyler Ampe and Tanner Hamilton have had great showings between the pipes.
There still is a long way to go before the playoffs get underway in March but looking ahead, the Lakers will be aiming to continue their recent hot play over the next few weeks, with four more contests against the Wilderness looming on the horizon.
Those will be the games that more than likely will determine the top seed for the post-season. And for the Lakers, it will give them a chance to see how they match up with the most powerful squad in the seven-team loop.
Personally, I think the Wilderness still have to be considered the favourites at this point to repeat as champs. They remain unbeaten at home at this point in the campaign and seemingly can score at will on anyone who stands in their way.
However, if the Lakers can shove them aside, which they accomplished here way back on Sept. 23, the pendulum in the race for a berth in the Dudley Hewitt Cup may swing in a different direction.
Meanwhile, the NFL playoff picture officially was set Sunday, with the Cincinnati Bengals clinching the final wild-card spot in the AFC.
Speaking as a Bengals’ fan, my jaw is still on the ground at this development.
You see, back in August, I wrote a column for the Times with the headline “Beleaguered Bengals to disappoint again,” speaking of my frustration with the team heading into the new season following the lockout.
At the time, the Bengals were set to start the campaign with a number of issues—the biggest seemingly being unheralded rookie Andy Dalton taking the role at starting quarterback while veteran Carson Palmer held out for trade.
Blind with rage, I predicted that the season for me, as a Bengals’ fan, would be “the equivalent of spending 16 weeks of repeatedly having your wisdom teeth ripped out” and that the team would finish with an 0-16 record.
However, I’m now happily eating crow over my predictions.
Thanks to a 9-7 record, the Bengals have clinched a berth into the playoffs for the first time since 2009, with the play of Dalton and stellar first-year wideout AJ Green helping the orange-and-black to their success.
Now am I expecting a miracle run in the post-season that will lead to the Bengals winning the Super Bowl for the first time? Not really.
While I’m confident (well, as confident as any Bengals’ fan can be given their history) they can beat the Houston Texans (who limped into the playoffs with a third-string quarterback) this coming weekend, Cincinnati would have to face the New England Patriots in the next round, which always is a daunting task.
And if they pull off an upset there, they still would have to face their much stronger division rivals in Baltimore or Pittsburgh in the AFC title game.
Or, if all heck broke loose, a conference championship match-up could take place against the Denver Broncos and the king of the late-game comeback in Tim Tebow.
However, this is the NFL, where parity reigns supreme, so maybe there is a chance for the Bengals to end up playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy after all.
Though if the Super Bowl match-up next month is between the Bengals and the Detroit Lions, I will be officially convinced that the world will be coming to an end later this year.

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