The Fort Frances Lakers have been at the mercy of Mother Nature of late and have had plenty of time to rest and work on any weaknesses in their game.
Both of the squad's games were postponed over the weekend due to a winter storm, which included a home match-up on Friday night against the SIJHL-leading Thunder Bay North Stars (23-9-3) and a road showdown the following with the second-place Red Lake Miners (21-10-3-1).
Fort Frances also had its home game against the third-ranked Dryden GM Ice Dogs (19-14-2) on Jan. 10 postponed due to a highway closure, preventing the Dryden team bus from arriving on time.
That marks three of the Lakers' last four games being postponed, with the SIJHL still to finalize make-up dates for each.
“It hasn't effected us really at all other than we are going to play a lot of games in the next two months,” Lakers' head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan said of all the recent postponed games for his club
“We have went about our business in practice and have worked hard both on and off the ice in workouts. It's definitely a distraction, but we have tried to make the best of practices, working on skill development and honing our game plan or systems.”
The lone game the Lakers did play in last week was a road showdown with the expansion Wisconsin Lumberjacks, which the Lumberjacks took by a 3-2 count in overtime.
Parker Brakebill picked the perfect time to notch his first goal of the new year as his tally 15 seconds into extra frame finished off a comeback win for the Lumberjacks at the Spooner Civic Center.
Fort Frances (13-16-3) came out quickly, opening the scoring just 11 seconds into the first period off the stick of Kyle Uzelman.
The Lakers went up by a pair late in the period as Stone Stelzl fired home his 13th of the season.
Wisconsin cut into the deficit early in the second as some nice puck movement resulted in Joel Matthews slamming in his seventh of the campaign near the two-minute mark to make it 2-1.
The Lumberjacks (11-21-2-1) then forced extra time just past the 12-minute mark of the third when Ryley Cardinal finished off the work of teammates Tyler Shetland and Dalton Garcia.
“We played a pretty good first period, getting out to the lead and gaining the momentum,” Strachan said.
“Our penalty kill was strong throughout the game and we got good goaltending.”
Heading to OT, Wisconsin converted quickly as Matthews intercepted a clearing attempt, then made a perfect cross-ice pass over to Brakebill on the left side, who promptly fired the winner past a sprawled out Alex Bugeja in the Fort Frances net to end it.
Nathan Mueller made 15 saves to earn the win while Bugeja turned aside 34 shots to suffer the loss.
“We didn't finish them off when we had the chances, especially on the power play,” Strachan lamented.
“We turned the puck over through the middle too many times and it eventually cost us in the overtime. We didn't attack their net enough to create more scoring chances, it was like we got lulled to sleep.”
The fifth-place Lakers next are in action on Friday night when they open a home-and-home series against the fourth-place Thief River Falls Norskies (16-15-3) at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
The Norskies then will host the finale the following night at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Fort Frances will be without the services of local forward Cooper Witherspoon (knee) and defenceman Kiernan Bailey (upper-body) who continue to recover from their ailments.
“We are definitely rested and need to take advantage of that rest in a positive way,” Strachan stressed of the Lakers' upcoming games against the Norskies.
"Friday night, we need to get ourselves into the game quickly and every game now is our most important if we want to accomplish the goals we have set for ourselves in the second half.
“The biggest thing is we need to believe in ourselves, our ability, start rewarding ourselves and our hard work,” he concluded.