Jr. A team are in third place heading into bye week
Special to The Lake Report
“Claustrophobic” might be the best word to describe last Friday night’s Niagara Predators game. With the North York Renegades seemingly everywhere the home team turned, the game ended in a 5-2 loss for Niagara.
With that loss, followed by a 5-2 win on the road Sunday, the formerly first-place Predators are in third behind North York and the Durham Roadrunners in the southern division of the Greater Metro Jr. A Hockey League. The Preds are now 7-3, but have played one more game than their top two rivals.
The Niagara team has a bye week ahead, with no games scheduled till Nov. 12 – plenty of time to practise, add some players to their already-short bench and maybe find a new head coach.
Friday's match, the team’s third game since the departure of former head coach Andrew Whalen, saw team owner Robert Turnbull back on the bench.
“We made little mistakes, we turned over the puck, a couple guys could have gotten to the puck a little bit earlier, we didn’t,” said Turnbull after the loss.
“We had a couple chances to shoot the puck and we didn’t. One guy is not going to skate by three, it’s not rocket science. Dump the puck in, let your winger go get it and then go right to the net. We didn’t do that.”
Turnbull still felt plenty went right for his team, saying he thinks the Predators outplayed North York during the first period, which ended without either team scoring. He also takes less issue with the Renegades' fifth goal on an empty net.
“Really, it’s a 4-2 game without the empty net goal. But we took a lot of unnecessary penalties and that’s kind of it in a nutshell. We worked hard. I thought we played very well and I commend us.”
The scoresheet was blank until 1:14 into the second period with a goal for North York and their second tally came six minutes later.
North York took a 3-0 lead after 42 minutes of play, earning forward Santino Foti a natural hat trick. But he wasn't finished.
Foti would also get his team’s fourth of the night with four minutes left in the game but not before Niagara’s Jesper Eriksson and Alexander Insulander netted the Predators’ only two goals of the night before the midway point of the third period. North York’s Nikolai Salvo got the empty netter with 33 seconds left in the game.
Along with their two goals, the third period saw the Predators coming back onto the ice with a fury, an effort Turnbull recognized.
“I explained to them (in the dressing room), that in order to go where they want to go, to finish where they want to finish, they have to show the other team what they’re made of,” said Turnbull.
“They have to get to the puck, they have to skate their butts off and you have to be more physical – and that’s what they did. And I said, 'You have to pass the puck a little bit more.' And everything I asked them to do, they did.”
Despite the loss, Turnbull remains optimistic, saying the Renegades had the advantage of practising together since mid-summer, something his team has been unable to do.
“So I give full credit to our team. I think with some real good practices, teaching them a few things that maybe they forget or showing them things that I may not be showing them, it can be better. I really believe in my heart we can beat them.”
Friday night’s game was also the debut of St. David’s native Maxwell Bredin, the Niagara team's only hometown player.
A recent A.N. Myer Secondary School graduate who moved to NOTL six years ago, Bredin most recently played for the Pelham Panthers in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association.
“I’m just happy to be here locally in Virgil. It’s a great group of guys, really great hockey players, too,” he said in an interview. “I just want to really do well out here, perform for my parents and friends and just play for my hometown.”
Bredin feels he has a lot to offer the team both on and off the ice.
“I think my passing and skating are probably my biggest attributes I can bring to the team. I also like to think of myself as a good locker room guy,” he said. “I like hanging with the guys, meeting new people and just being another friendly face in the room.”
The Predators fared better during their Halloween afternoon road game against the Streetsville Flyers, flipping the score and winning 5-2, their third victory in three games against the Mississauga-based team..
Streetsville’s Ryan Byrne struck first a mere eight seconds into the game but Niagara’s Reese Bisci evened the score at the 14:04 mark.
Dante Massi got a second for the Predators just under four minutes into the second period and Streetsville's Cole Wigle tied it 20 seconds later. But Niagara’s Mario Zitella and Jesper Eriksson gave the Predators a two-goal lead going into the third.
Bisci put his second past goaltender Lynden Blanchet five minutes into the last period for the final goal of the night.
With their bye week, the Predators next hit the ice versus the Plattsville Lakers in Virgil on Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m.