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Saturday, November 26, 2022
Sports: Jr. A Predators lose first game of second-round playoff series
The Predators got three of four points last weekend.

Kevan Dowd

Special to The Lake Report

Two wins over the Plattsville Lakers was all the Niagara Jr. A Predators needed to take things to round two of the playoffs but they couldn’t keep the streak alive against tougher competition.

Niagara made short work of Plattsville in the first round of the Greater Metro Hockey League’s playoffs, winning two straight games of the best-of-three series. But in Tuesday’s first game of the semi-finals the Predators lost 8-5 to the North York Renegades.

“We were up 4-2 then we took some, I guess you could say bad penalties I didn’t necessarily agree with but it is what it is and they scored a couple power play goals when we were two men short and one man short,” said Predators’ head coach and owner Robert Turnbull.

“We definitely played well enough to win.”

North York started with an early two-goal lead but Niagara’s Pontus Madsen narrowed the gap nine minutes into the first. Jason Humphries responded to a third tally by North York at a little past the 17-minute mark, ending the period with Niagara trailing 3-2.

An explosive start to the second period for Niagara saw Alexander Page and Alexander Insulander each scoring in the first four minutes and a 4-3 lead Niagara held for the rest of the period.

Niagara’s Dante Massi brought things to a promising 5-3 early in the third but five unanswered goals over 15 minutes for North York – two on power plays and their eighth in an empty net – iced the Predators 8-5.

“Being down 2-0, to come back and score three times, and then another one to make it 4-3, momentum was on our side. We were playing great and then we get a couple bad penalties. Today we should have won,” said Turnbull.

He is proud of his team and attributes the loss in part to two top scorers who moved to European pro leagues, former captain Mario Zitella out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury and newcomer Mackenzie Okumura in isolation after COVID-19 contact.

“We got to the puck better than we normally do against this team and we made some unbelievable passes.”

A 2-1 finish last Wednesday and 4-2 win on Friday against Plattsville earned Niagara their spot in the league’s south division semi-finals against North York.

“It was great, it was fabulous, the kids earned it. Some of the boys, in a positive way, are playing way above their level and it’s fabulous to see and I’m so proud of the guys who leave it all out on the ice.”

In their first game, scoring started early for Niagara, courtesy Georgy Kholmovsky 5:36 into the game. It would be almost 20 game minutes later before either team’s goaltender slipped up, with Plattsville sneaking one past Morgan Penwell a second shy of 15 minutes into the second period. Four minutes later Alessandro Massi put Niagara back in the lead with the final goal of the night.

Playing at “home” last Friday in Port Colborne because icetime was not available at the Meridian Credit Union Arena in Virgil, the Predators put down Plattsville a second and final time.

The game was scoreless for the first half until Niagara’s Dante Massi netted one at the 11:46 mark in the second period.

It was in the last 20 minutes when things really picked up with a recently returned Noah Caperchione giving his team a two-goal lead nearly seven minutes in. Plattsville answered back 30 seconds later but not to be outdone, Madsen managed Niagara’s third goal just 20 seconds after that.

A power play goal by Plattsville tightened things up for the last 10 minutes but with less than two minutes left on the clock, Caperchione’s second of the night sealed the deal for Niagara 4-2.

“They were very tight games, they were hard-fought games, they were very physical games and we had the goaltending. We had good goaltending against Plattsville those games,” said Turnbull.

Niagara faces tougher competition against the Renegades, who finished in second place – one spot above Niagara – and bested the Predators three out of four games in the regular season. But a comeback is not out of reach as the semi-finals are a best-of-five series.

Turnbull feels the wins will not be easy but has a game plan.

“Our plan’s really simple, try to play like we did tonight and eliminate the bad penalties. That’s all we can do.”

“It’s going to be very difficult against this team. The first two periods were some of the best periods we’ve played. We’ve always had close games against the Renegades and we always give them a good go.”

Niagara was to play their second game of this series Wednesday night in North York and their third is this Friday night in Virgil at 7:30 p.m.