The Niagara Jr. A Predators hit the ice for their first game of the 2023-2024 season last Friday night but could not derail their opponents to score an early win.
Coming up short against the Tottenham Railers, Niagara lost 5-3 on home ice – a disappointing start for a nearly brand-new team.
The Predators looked good for 40 minutes but fell apart in the third period, in part due to a five-minute penalty from team veteran Nolan Wyers.
But returning Predators’ head coach Kevin Taylor felt the poor third-period performance was due to more than just playing short-handed.
“It was bad from the goaltender, straight out to the forwards, through the bench. Everybody was bad in that third period,” said Taylor.
“I was expecting to win, of course, but I don’t expect an effort in the third like that. That was just bad.”
Niagara’s first goal of the new season came nine and a half minutes into the first period on a powerplay courtesy rookie Shane Kaplan but Tottenham tied things up before the first intermission.
Tottenham pulled ahead early in the second but Predators Dylan Denning and Isaac Locker put Niagara in the lead after 40 minutes.
Unfortunately, it would not last.
Tottenham netted their second goal of the night three minutes into the third period and slipped another two by goaltender Zane Clausen while Wyers looked on from the box on a five-minute, high-sticking penalty.
Though Wyers’ penalty was costly he was far from the lone offender. The Predators managed to rack up 20 minutes in the box as a team, something Taylor himself questioned.
“I think the penalties we took could be mental penalties but I’m going to say they were tired penalties,” he said.
“Wyers, I can’t have him taking a five-minute penalty. He’s one of the better players. I need him on the ice and rely on him. And if he’s pushing and shoving after the whistle, why?”
Although Taylor felt the third period hung over the entire game, he still thinks his team did well in the first 40 minutes and that there is a lot to be learned from the night. For him, the nature of the loss is what is disappointing.
“It comes down to how the loss happens and that’s what I’m upset about, how it transpired,” he said.
“We made some plays and there’s things we’ve been working on in the past week, like driving the net, that we did well. There were a couple guys that were a little shy and played on the outside a little bit but when you see them in practice, they’re totally different players.”
“So maybe it’s good learning for them to see they can compete if they do what they can. The biggest thing is I didn’t see the speed I was expecting,” he said.
“We moved the puck well but the speed – if we had a three-on-two, we made it a three-on-three.”
With a whole season ahead, the Predators have plenty of time to make up for their opening-game loss but with a short bench and just seven returning players, it could make for a challenging start. Luckily, they have a week to figure out what worked and what didn’t.
“I think we got one powerplay goal but again, we shouldn’t have to rely on too-many-men penalties to get us back in the game,” said Taylor. “We had control of that game and they just came out flat in the third.”
The Predators are back in action against the St. George Ravens this Friday, Sept. 22, at the Meridian Credit Union Arena. Puck drops at 7:30 p.m.