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Saturday, October 1, 2022
Sports: Jr. A Predators expect tough first-round playoff series

Injuries to some key players could hurt Niagara in best-of-three matchup


Kevan Dowd

Special to The Lake Report

Three straight wins meant a strong finish for the Niagara Jr. A Predators’ debut season – and secured third place in the Greater Metro Hockey League’s southern division ahead of the playoffs.

An 8-0 final last Friday night at home and 9-3 finish on the road Saturday, both against the Tottenham Thunder, followed by a 4-3 road win over the Plattsville Lakers Sunday, means the Predators face the sixth-place Lakers in the first round of the postseason.

Turning away an incredible 75 shots, Niagara goaltender Iain Riordon blanked Tottenham Friday night, with Reese Bisci netting three goals – two in the first period and his final in the third. Additional goals from Alexander Page, Alexander Insulander, Pontus Madsen and Alexander Andrews in the second period and recent draft Mackenzie Okumura in the third made for the 8-0 win.

“I said, 'Whatever you do, you can’t play them as if they’re last place,' ” said Predators head coach and owner Robert Turnbull.

“Everybody skated hard, everybody worked hard. Overall I was pleased, we weren’t looking to score more goals, we were looking to move the puck and improve our transition game.”

Showing no sign of slowing down the following night in Tottenham, the scoresheet was littered with Predators' players including a pair of tallies each for Bisci, Georgy Kholmovsky and Brendan Morin as well as singles for Okumura, Andrews and Dante Massi. 

“Friday and Saturday the boys were moving the puck really well – Saturday especially – and I think they’ve really figured out communication on the ice,” said assistant coach Sam Marson. “They just really played together well as a team Friday and Saturday.”

In a major case of déjà vu, Niagara beat the Plattsville Lakers 4-3 in a shootout Sunday, a week after they last met and lost 4-3 in a shootout.

This time around, Plattsville took an early two-goal lead after 20 minutes but Niagara bounced back in the second period with a penalty shot goal by Insulander eight minutes in and a tying goal from Kholmovsky at the 14:45 mark.

Plattsville regained the lead halfway through the third but in true nail-biting fashion, a pulled goalie and extra man led to a third goal from Insulander with less than 30 seconds left on the clock. Overtime settled nothing but a single shootout goal from Madsen meant a 4-3 finish and three straight Ws.

“Luckily this time it came out in our favour,” said Marson. “That game we started off pretty slow but we built up some momentum in the second period with a power play goal scored by Alex Insulander.”

“Both teams had their chances but neither put it through and then we put it through in a shootout which was nice to see.”

The Predators now enter the first round of the playoffs, a best-of-three matchup against Plattsville that started Wednesday, March 9, on the road with a “home” game in Port Colborne.

Both Turnbull and Marson are optimistic going into the playoffs but know there will be challenges including being short key goal scorers such as Mario Zitella and Noah Caperchione due to injuries.

“We know Mario’s not going to play and we know Noah isn’t going to play for at least two weeks,” said Turnbull.

“It’s going to be very difficult for us to get through the first round so I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to bring a defenceman up and we’re going to need solid goaltending to advance. As long as we improve our communication and they talk to one another, it doesn’t matter who we play, it’s going to help us improve.”

Marson also thinks the injuries will pose a challenge but is confident in her team.

“I just think that because we’ve been shorthanded the past few games we still have the team to beat them, if the boys play the game like we know they can, they can pull it off,” she said. “I know we have the team we need for the playoffs to take it all the way if they really want to.”

Due to unavailability of ice at the Meridian Credit Union Arena in Virgil, the Predators’ second playoff game will be in Plattsville Friday night. If necessary, a third game will be scheduled to determine the series winner.