Team owner says he’ll be talking to town officials about returning to NOTL for next season
Special to The Lake Report
The Niagara Jr A. Predators’ debut season came to an end Sunday afternoon with a loss to the North York Renegades in the Greater Metro Hockey League’s south division semifinal.
The best-of-five series ended 3-1 for the Renegades who scored their first win last Tuesday night. A 4-3 road win for the Predators the next night guaranteed two more games – both at the Meridian Credit Union Arena – but a 4-3 loss Friday night and 6-2 decision Sunday means a third-place finish for Niagara.
North York now faces the first-place Durham Roadrunners in the division finals.
The Predators will not be returning to the ice anytime soon, but head coach and owner Robert Turnbull says he does not plan on moving his team out of Niagara.
He said he will be meeting with Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake officials next Monday to discuss logistics for a second season in Virgil.
“There’s certain things we need going forward that we didn’t have this year, but the staff and the rink – knowing what we had to work with going in – it was fine. But in order to present a professional product, we need some other amenities and different practice times,” he said.
He declined to offer details of what the team wants.
“I’ll know on the 28th but I’m definitely hoping to stay in the Niagara area.”
Either way, assistant coaches Connor Shipton and Samantha Marson hope to stay on with the team.
“I’m definitely going to be back with Rob. This is definitely the team I want to be with of the two he has,” said Shipton. Turnbull also owns the St. George Ravens. “However we decide to go about it for next year, I’ll definitely be here in some capacity.”
Marson had similar sentiments.
“As of right now I look forward to sticking with the Predators,” she said. “I still have to talk to Robert to see what he has planned but I still plan to stick with them and see where life takes me from there.”
Turnbull had plenty of “thank yous” to spread around.
“I’d like to thank, of course, the players, our staff for what they’ve done. I couldn’t have done this without them. The fans were fantastic, the rink staff and rink management staff were very obliging. I have zero complaints.”
“You’re only as good as the people around you and I had a great, great group of people around me making this work. It was just a fantastic year.”
On the ice, though things may not have gone their way in the end, Niagara’s coaching staff were impressed with Wednesday’s win over North York and said there was plenty of celebration in the dressing room.
“It was a total team effort. It’s one of the better games we played this year, plus we had the goaltending – it was a huge win,” said Turnbull. “It was great to see. They deserved it.”
Alessandro Massi put Niagara on the board first with a little over two minutes left in the first period. Second period tallies from Reese Bisci and Georgy Kholmovsky at the 3:48 and 19:24 mark gave Niagara a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes.
Two quick goals for North York early in the last period meant a one-goal difference but Dante Massi widened the gap with nine minutes to go. A third for the Renegades tightened things up for the last five minutes but Niagara held the line for the 4-3 win.
“Game two was our best game, if you ask me. We, for the most part, played a perfect game,” said Shipton.
“We were going into the third 3-0 over them and that definitely had to do with doing everything right, pressuring their forwards, their defence and capitalizing on our chances.”
In their first game back home Friday, Turnbull thought his team played well, but felt some bad bounces and a tough opponent between the pipes contributed to the loss.
“We were hurting a little bit. They have a great team, they pressured us, our transition game was not at its best and a couple penalties hurt us. But, at the end of the day, it was a heck of a hockey game.”
Returning for his first of what would end up being two games, Jesper Eriksson netted a goal 10:17 into the first period. North York took the lead by one halfway through the second but Alexander Page scored the equalizer with 12 seconds left in the period.
Two early goals for North York put them back out front in the third period and despite a third marker by Niagara’s Noah Caperchione with less than three minutes left on the clock, it was not enough.
By Sunday night it was do-or-die for Niagara but even with the team’s best effort, the game would not be theirs to win.
“Everybody was down after for sure, but I went into the room and I thanked them and told them this was one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had,” said Turnbull.
“It didn’t work out but it wasn’t from lack of trying. Everyone gave 100 per cent.”
For the third game in a row, Niagara was first on the scoreboard, courtesy Alexander Insulander three minutes in. The Predators’ only other goal of the night came from Jason Humphries after 31 minutes of play, but three tallies for North York in the second period and a fourth in the third meant the Predators would have to hang up their jerseys for the season.
“Sunday’s was a hard one to watch. We started off in the lead and then you could see the boys kind of get down as the Renegades started coming back and putting more pressure on us. It seemed to put a little damper on the boys,” said Marson.