With only five games left in the SIJHL’s regular season, the game plan couldn’t be any clearer for the Fort Frances Lakers.
“This is probably the biggest stretch of the season for us,” stressed Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan.
“Depending on what happens in the next four games, in particular, may indicate where we’ll end up in the playoff picture,” he noted.
With the Wisconsin Wilderness having wrapped up the first seed for the post-season last weekend, the Lakers now are in a tightly-contested battle for second place with the Thunder Bay North Stars and Dryden Ice Dogs.
Four of the Lakers’ final five games will be against the other three members of the SIJHL’s fantastic four, including a visit to Dryden tonight.
The Lakers will follow that up with a home game versus the North Stars tomorrow night (Feb. 17) before hosting the Wilderness on Saturday (Feb. 19).
The squad will square off against the Ice Dogs once again next Tuesday (Feb. 22), this time at the Ice For Kids Arena, before concluding their regular-season schedule next Thursday (Feb. 24) in Sioux Lookout to face the Flyers.
The Lakers sat it second place with 67 points heading into tonight’s game in Dryden, with the North Stars and Ice Dogs only five and seven points back, respectively.
“The game against Dryden on Wednesday will be huge, especially if they get those two points against us because they’ll be right back into the mix again,” Strachan warned.
“The North Stars are always a tough opponent and we’ve have some good battles with them all year long, and you can’t say enough about what the Wilderness have done,” he added.
“We’ll need to be in the right state of mind and working hard in preparing for Wednesday, and we also can’t look ahead towards the North Stars and the Wilderness in order to be successful.”
If the Lakers end up finishing second in the standings, they will face the Wilderness in a pair of separate two-game, total-goal series.
The winner of that series will get to choose their opponent for the semi-final round as the third- through sixth-place teams battle it out for the other two berths.
The Lakers helped their cause for a potential date with Wisconsin thanks to a 4-2 victory over Sioux Lookout here Saturday night.
While the Flyers currently are fifth in the SIJHL standings, and well back of the Lakers, Strachan said he stressed to his team to not take their opponents lightly.
“In our practice on Friday and before the game tonight [Saturday], we talked about exactly that,” Strachan remarked afterwards.
“If you look at their recent games, they’ve had some tight scores and you can’t take them for granted.