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Dec. 6, 2021 | Monday
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Hockey: Jr. A team loses coach six games into season
Andrew Whalen, pictured on the bench during home game earlier this season, is no longer coaching the Jr. A Niagara Predators. (Kevan Dowd)

Niagara Predators' bench boss quits for personal reasons, GM says

 

Kevan Dowd
Special to The Lake Report

The Niagara Jr. A Predators have learned to adapt to being short of players all season but last weekend they found themselves short a coach – having lost their head coach just six games into the schedule.

Friday night was the Predators' first game without head coach Andrew Whalen behind the bench since his sudden and unexpected departure from the team. 

The team’s owner, Robert Turnbull oversaw the team in his place, which ended in a 3-2 win for the Predators over the Plattsville Lakers.

General manager Johan Eriksson said Whalen opted to put family first and chose to step down for personal reasons, including the arrival of his fourth child in a matter of weeks.

The coach was also making a long, expensive commute to Niagara-on-the-Lake from his home in Brantford, he said.

Eriksson told The Lake Report the team had initially intended to keep the news of Whalen's departure low-key in the lead-up to last weekend's two games.

“We wanted to keep it a little bit quiet at first but (with others on the bench over the weekend) now it’s not really a secret, but there’s no issue with us to speak about it now,” he said. 

“It came up very suddenly for us, so we were blindsided a bit, but we are closing in on a new head coach. If it takes longer, we are OK with that, we just need it to be the right person.”

Whalen could not be reached for comment.

Ericksson said he already has interviewed a few coach prospects and some are serious candidates for the position.

He hopes to have a new coach by early November, but in the meantime Turnbull will be on the bench again this Friday.

“We’re hoping to have this sorted out by the end of the week.”

Eriksson said his ideal coach is someone with experience but who has the right personality to fit with the team.

“I want a calm presence on the bench. You won’t get anywhere in this league or with this team if you’re up yelling and screaming,” he said.

Whalen has left some big shoes to fill as he not only was head coach but also handled video review and dryland training,

“Whalen did both of those things for us, which is very difficult to find in a coach. So I may need to bring in one more assistant coach as well.”

Meanwhile, on the ice Friday, Plattsville goaltender Luca Del Rizzon stopped 36 shots on goal but was not quick enough to stop one by Niagara’s Dawson Walker 15 minutes into the first period, another from Alexander Insulander in the second period, and the team’s final marker by Mario Zitella four minutes into the third.

Platsville’s first marker of the night came 22 minutes into the game courtesy Malcolm Campbell with Kyle Struth netting their only other goal with one second left in the game.

Eriksson filled in as coach during Sunday’s 4-3 road loss to the St. George Ravens. The Ravens have proven to be Niagara’s toughest competitors so far, besting the team twice in eight games for the team’s only two losses.

Niagara had faced St. George at home on Friday, Oct. 15, winning 3-2 and putting them in first place in their division of the Greater Metro Hockey League. Sunday’s loss means they are now tied for first with the Durham Roadrunners and North York Renegades, but both those squads have games in hand.

Erkisson blamed Sunday’s loss on a worn-out, short-handed team of just 13 players and two goalies compared to St. George’s bench of 17. Due to injuries, the team was down to just 10 skaters for the last 15 minutes, pitting two lines against the Raven’s three and a half.

“It’s been a long week for us. The game Friday was OK, I didn’t think it was our best game, we weren’t on top,” said Eriksson. 

“And Sunday’s game we started off very, very slow. The second period we played like we know we can but in the third period we were very, very tired. The Ravens have stacked up a lot of players. They had a full team.”

Niagara got a power play goal by Dawson Walker early in the first period with the Ravens earning a tally nine minutes later. St. George got their next point less than a minute into the second but Insulander and Zitella answered back with a goal each.

It was the third period where St. George ran away the game, scoring two goals to secure the win.

“Two goals, if we’re better rested, they wouldn’t have happened,” said Eriksson. “We were just very tired and when we’re tired mistakes happen. That’s just how it is.”

The Predators face North York this Friday in Virgil. The action starts at 7:30 p.m.

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