Predators have busy weekend with three games as playoffs loom
Special to The Lake Report
The end of the Niagara Jr A. Predators’ regular season is quickly approaching and things seem to keep getting tougher.
Coming full-circle, the Predators are short on bodies – just as they were when they started their season – as they fight to keep their fourth places seat in the Greater Metro Hockey League’s southern division.
This past Friday night, they bounced back from an uneven performance last weekend and beat the North York Renegades 5-2 at home in Virgil.
North York is tied with Durham for top spot in the division at the moment but have played two more games than their rival. There is about three week
Niagara faces off against the Renegades again on Sunday, Feb. 20, on the road. After this weekend the Predators only have a handful of games left in the regular season. All teams qualify for the league's playoffs, which start in March.
Last Friday night was a different story as the Predators suffered a 2-0 loss on home ice to the seventh-place Streetsville Flyers – and then managed a close 5-4 win over the Plattsville Lakers on the road Sunday. Plattsville is another sub-.500 team, but the Lakers gave Niagara a battle.
Speaking about last Friday’s game, Predators owner and head coach Robert Turnbull was surprised by the loss.
“I thought we’d definitely come away with a win. For shots, we hit some posts and sticks, their goalie played phenomenally, our goalie played phenomenally, but you can only miss the net so many times when it’s open. And if you don’t take advantage of your power plays, you won’t get the goals.”
For 20 minutes both teams' goaltenders – including Niagara’s Morgan Penwell in his debut game – turned away every shot, until Streetsville’s Nick Giamou finally slipped one past him less than a minute into the second period. Despite 40 attempts by Niagara they failed to get on the scoreboard as Streetsville sealed it with an empty-netter with a 1:20 left in the game.
“I said to the guys after, “If you leave this rink upset that you lost, that’s OK. But if you leave upset because you think you didn’t play a good game, lift your head up because you played a tremendous game,' ” said Turnbull.
Assistant coach Connor Shipton also felt the team performed well Friday, blaming posts, bad bounces and being short players as issues despite a hard-fought game.
“We hit four posts, pumped 40 shots against their goalie and he stopped everything,” said Shipton. “A lot of things went right but their goalie played amazing and (Penwell) played well for his first game in months. I can’t complain, the effort was there and they gave it their all. It was one of those nights where the game just didn’t go our way.”
The game did go their way two days later in Plattsville, especially for Niagara’s Noah Caperchione who earned himself a hat trick. Caperchione started off the scoring 15 seconds into the game and earned another goal three minutes later for an early lead.
Caperchione seems to have a knack for getting things rolling for his team, being the first on the scoreboard five times in his past six games.
“I don’t know how to describe it, somehow he always managed to get that first one. Maybe it’s just that he brings a great energy. On and off the ice he’s very vocal and positive and it just seems to work for him,” said Shipton.
Plattsville managed their first at the 7:43 mark with Niagara’s Reese Bisci answering back soon after, but two more for Plattsville made for a 3-3 tie by the end of the period. Bisci netted his second 8:32 into the second period but a tally from Plattsville’s Malcolm Campbell would keep things tied for the last period.
Exactly five minutes into the third Caperchione’s hat trick goal nudged his team out front, a lead they maintained until the final buzzer.
Coming hot off the win, Niagara now starts a race to the end of the regular season, beginning with three games this weekend. Sandwiched between the Friday and Sunday matches versus North York Renegade, is a road game against Windsor.
Turnbull acknowledged the challenge his disadvantaged team faces.
“We’re still short forwards. The Renegades have been a very difficult team to play and that was when we had everyone. So we need to play disciplined hockey and we have to stay out of the box.”
Shipton thinks there are things his team needs to work on to compensate for their short bench but says it has meant giving players more ice time and putting them in non-typical roles. He feels his players have stepped up and shown themselves capable of rising to the challenge.
“Obviously it’s going to be one of the bigger weekends for us but if we can keep battling, skating and doing what we’re doing it can be a good weekend for us. It’s definitely going to be a battle against North York but I think they’re up to the challenge.”