The recent cold snap has made things difficult across Northwestern Ontario—and the Fort Frances Lakers experienced some of that over the weekend.
Bus issues for both teams forced the postponement of the Lakers' home-and-home series against the Dryden GM Ice Dogs that had been scheduled for Friday and Saturday nights.
Make-up dates for each will be announced by the SIJHL once they're finalized.
So what did the Lakers do with that down time?
“With other events happening in town, and the number of players we have sick, we decided to give the players Friday and Saturday off,” Lakers' head coach/general manager Wayne Strachan said.
“[On] Sunday, we skated and worked on transition and on [the] defensive zone, and net presence offensively and defensively.”
The fifth-place Lakers (12-21-1-1) resumed action yesterday afternoon against the top-ranked Thunder Bay North Stars (29-2-1-1) at the SIJHL's annual “Showcase” at the Hoyt Lakes Arena, with the outcome not known as of press time.
This year's “Showcase” features three games per day, with each one counting in the league standings as teams battle for playoff positioning.
The Lakers then will wrap up play tonight against the host Minnesota Iron Rangers (3-33-0-0).
“Hopefully we are rested and prepared to go in Tuesday and go to war, so to speak, for one another to battle the league leaders who are red-hot right now,” Strachan said Sunday.
“It will be business as usual," he stressed. ”We need to match their intensity level and be in their face.
“In both games, we need to keep things simple, move pucks quickly, [and] make sure we are energized and playing at a high level of play.”
The “Showcase” games also are a great chance for the players to show off their skills to various scouts and Strachan is hopeful his charges will be at the top of their game.
“This week is about and for the players," he noted. ”It's highly important for them to bring what they do best to the table for the team and work hard.
“The more our team can produce and have success, the better for players as individuals to be seen in how they contribute to that success.”
The Lakers then will have a road game in Thief River Falls against the third-place Norskies (21-12-3-1) on Friday night before capping the week by welcoming the second-place Red Lake Miners (24-12-2-0) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ice For Kids Arena.
“Being rested, taking care of ourselves, eating right, getting a lot of fluids to stay hydrated, and keeping mentally prepared,” Strachan cited as being the biggest keys to success in the games against the Norskies and Miners.
“We have worked hard throughout the year to be in shape,” he noted.
“We need to rest and recover being this busy and then come ready to work hard in short stints on the ice.”
The Lakers also have been bit by the 'flu bug of late and still are without the services of local forward Noah Loveday (hand injury).
“We are battling the 'flu bug and have many guys going through it," Strachan said. ”It's tough on them and it seems they are out for four-to-five days at the minimum.
“We will still miss Noah Loveday out of the lineup,” he added.
“We were hoping he may be back for this week but it looks like he will be out for at least another week, for sure.”
The Lakers head into this week following a narrow 2-1 loss to the host Norskies last Wednesday night as Alec Severson's goal with three-and-a-half minutes to go in the second period proved to be the game-winner.
The Norskies opened the scoring just under eight minutes into the first when Bryce Johnson netted his 13th of the season.
Severson then notched the lone marker of the second to double the lead.
The Lakers finally got on the board 6:31 into the third on Jakob Ruck's first SIJHL marker.
But the hosts tightened up defensively from there to hold on for the win.
Bailey Schmitz made 22 saves to earn the victory while Jacob Gnidziejko stopped 31 shots fired his way in taking the loss.
“I felt our penalty kill was strong and our push back once we scored was good,” Strachan said of the loss.
“We lacked overall effort at times," he conceded. ”We gave up too many odd-man rushes and we didn't get them out of their comfort zone.
“We need to worry about our game at this time, and being prepared to come to the rink excited to make ourselves accountable and ready to compete,” Strachan added.
“Start playing consistent hockey, and with playoff intensity, to grow our game heading into Game 1 of the playoffs.”