Lakeland/Tomahawk had high aspirations entering the girls' hockey season.
With a wealth of returning players, this could be the season Northland Pines is finally knocked of its perch atop the Great Northern Conference standings.
Heading into the first matchup of the season between the two teams, Lakeland/Tomahawk head coach Steve Bucklew wasn't ready to make any predictions or claims before they actually played.
Well, the Thunderbirds overcame an early deficit to come away with a 5-2 win, marking the first time in program history Lakeland has been able to beat the Lady Eagles on their own ice.
"We came out kind of slow and they got a 1-0 lead right away," Bucklew said. "Our first period wasn't too good, second and third periods were really good. There was a lot of effort and it was great to get out of there with a win for once."
After the sluggish start, Lakeland came out in the second period and tied the game immediately. The two teams would trade goals, but the T-Birds finally took a 3-2 lead heading into the third and they never relinquished it.
Pines getting off to a fast start isn't a new revelation in the series between the two teams, but this time Lakeland was able to battle back and assert itself for the remainder of the game.
"We were doing a lot of slapping the puck around, getting it on the stick and getting rid of it, not picking our heads up and see where people were at and they kind of calmed down in the second and third and made some good passes," Bucklew said. "Running three lines is different because you can wear a team out a little bit."
The game was a non-conference matchup, so both of Lakeland's wins over Pines in the last two years have not counted in the GNC standings.
Even after the win, Bucklew still wasn't ready to make any bold statements about the state of the top of the conference.
"I think it's still too early to say," Bucklew said. "I think we played two good periods that I was really pleased with, we played one period I wasn't very pleased with. I think a lot of that was jitters. It's kind of a mental block when you go into that building and it took us a period to get over it, but I thought they recovered well, played right until the end of the game. It was great."
Lakeland/Tomahawk had little time to celebrate with a quick turnaround against Marquette, Mich., on Saturday night in the first home game of the season.
The 19U squad had beaten up on Northland Pines on Friday night and Saturday morning, while scoring wins over Rhinelander/Antigo the week before.
For the T-Birds, it was a matter of beating themselves. Three consecutive penalties resulted in two first period goals, while an inability to clear the puck and a teammate colliding with goaltender Anna Maulson put Lakeland behind 4-0 early in the second period, resulting in a 6-1 loss.
"We dug ourselves a hole with penalties," Bucklew said. "I thought before that we played pretty well. The wheels kind of came off. Any time you take that many penalties, you're looking to get in trouble and we did. I thought Anna played a decent game."
Lauren Godfrey scored Lakeland's only goal in the second period in what turned into a physical, chippy affair that included a Marquette player get ejected for kicking a T-Bird player.
Regardless of the loss, Bucklew likes where his team is at this point in the season, particularly with the return of Maggie Wohlleber from injury.
"I saw a lot of good things yesterday, I saw a lot of good things today," Bucklew said. "We learned a lot today and we're going to run into a lot of good teams, so we have to learn from them."
Lakeland/Tomahawk (2-1) opens its GNC schedule Thursday against Medford at Lakeland Ice Arena, starting at 5 p.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @SabatoNick.