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Saturday, November 26, 2022
Hockey: Cool heads, hot goalies help Predators to first place

Kevan Dowd
Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report

They might be Predators on the scoreboard but they’re almost gentlemen on the ice, avoiding costly penalties.

The Jr. A Niagara Predators faced-off against the St. George Ravens – the only team to beat them so far this season – Friday night and scored a 3-2 victory to put them in top spot in their division of the Greater Metro Hockey League.

Two days later they managed a 5-0 win against the Streetsville Flyers in Mississauga, solidifying that standing. 

Niagara now holds a 5-1 record, but the atmosphere was tense throughout the Meridian Credit Union Arena on Friday. St. George’s Kyle Munyankuge got the first goal of the game but Niagara’s Alexander Insulander managed to tie it up literally at the last possible second of the first period.

Jesper Eriksson got Niagara’s second goal 15 minutes into the second period and Emil Erkisson earned the Predators their third just 40 seconds later. A minute later, St. George closed the gap with Mike Marchesan netting his team’s second of the night.

A close third period had everyone on the edge of their seats but Predators goaltender Oskar Spinnars Nordin turned away everything the Ravens could throw at him for a total of 44 saves – and the game’s first star.

“It’s a great start, especially being in a new location, and we’re really happy with the guys and I think once we get more bodies we’re going to keep on a roll,” said Predators head coach Andrew Whalen.

St. George cost the Predators their only loss so far this season, which Whalen said felt like being “robbed of something,” so he concedes the payback felt good.

“I think we were really just a little bit more hungry,” he said, adding the players were still feeling each other out as a team when they first played St. George.

“We weren’t firing the puck at first and tonight we were just finding some of those passes and getting the shots off.”

Sunday’s game against Streetsville went even better with goals by Emil Eriksson, two from Jesper Eriksson, and another from both Insulander and captain Mario Zitella. Meanwhile, between the pipes, Spinnars Nordin stopped all 47 shots he faced.

Whalen and Predators general manager Johan Eriksson agree the secret to their success may lie in their team’s conduct on the ice, backed up by some first-rate goaltending. Friday night in particular Whalen thinks his team’s ability to turn the other cheek gave them an advantage as things got a little personal on the ice.

He admits there might be a bit of a rivalry between his team and the Ravens, both of which have the same owner, Robert Turnbull.

“I think yeah, with our owner owning both teams, I think we want to prove we’re the stronger team.”

Words were certainly exchanged between players during the game but only St. George seemed to pay the price, earning three penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“I’m just more proud of the guys that their character showed, they stopped from the first games where they were maybe mouthing back and now they’ve closed their mouths and realized the other team’s going to get penalties and we’re going to have chances on a powerplay,” said Whalen.

Eriksson also said he was impressed with the character of the group, as well as how well they work together.

“At the beginning of the season we took some unnecessary penalties and we’ve learned from that, we don’t interact like that. We’ve been smarter and we just need to continue to keep cool heads,” he said.

As for their goaltending, Eriksson said he has been impressed with Spinnars Nordin since they signed him, adding he thinks he plays at an Ontario Hockey League level.

“If he was born in Ontario, he’d be in the OHL. He gives us a chance to win every game,” he said of the Swede, whom Eriksson feels is facing extra shots due to his team still having a short bench.

“Our players know the other teams are getting more shots than usual right now. But they trust Spinnars Nordin.”

Eriksson also praised the team’s other goalie, William Fagemo, for his talent despite being two years younger than the 19-year-old Spinnars Nordin.

“He’s great. No other team in the league has goalies like we do.”

Eriksson feels although this coming weekend will likely present some tough competition, his team is up for the challenge to stay on top.

“We just want to keep the momentum going because we are that good and we can beat any team,” he said. “Every team wants to beat the team in first place but I believe we can stay there.”

The Predators play the Plattsville Lakers this Friday in Virgil. Game time is 7:30 p.m. On Sunday, Niagara travels to St. George again for an afternoon encounter.