For the superstitious, it may be a little too early to use the word “comeback,” but that is just what the Jr. A Niagara Predators are hoping for.
Two wins last weekend against the Northumberland Stars has hopes up and puts the team one spot higher in the standings.
Now in sixth place in the Greater Metro Hockey League’s south division, the Predators are three points ahead of the Stars and tied at 29 points with the Tottenham Railers, but with two more games played.
Head coach Kevin Taylor thinks his team now has some wind in their sails and just hopes his players are feeling as confident as he is that their days near the bottom of the pack are behind them.
“We have an opportunity to get fourth place. We had an opportunity to get third but I think that’d be a dream now, but we’ll see what happens,” said Taylor. “I’m hoping they see that.”
Niagara started the weekend at home, beating the Stars 8-2. Predator goalie Zane Clausen stopped 19 shots before Northumberland put one by him 11 seconds into the third period.
In the meantime, Niagara’s Nolan Wyers, Cameron Savoie and Nicholas Nicoletti each scored in the first period, Luca Fernandez netted his team’s fourth 3:28 into the second and Savoie managed a deuce 12 minutes later.
In the third, Reese Bisci earned a tally at the 10:34 mark and following the Stars’ second goal of the game, Shane Kaplan tacked on his team’s seventh marker at the 15-minute point, with Georgy Kholmovsky getting the eight and final goal of the night with two minutes remaining.
“There were a couple breakdowns but that’s expected,” said Taylor.
“It would have been nice to get the shutout for Zane but I thought they played well,” he added. “There was a lot of backchecking. They did a lot of the little things tonight that made them successful.”
The following day’s away game was much closer but still went to the Predators, 4-3. Niagara’s Isaac Locker got the only goal of the first 20 minutes, with Fernandez putting his team ahead by two going into the last period.
Northumberland fought back hard in the final 20 minutes, tightening the gap to one at the 7:41 mark and answering then responding to a powerplay goal by Guy Manco and shorthanded goal by Declan Fogarty with two markers of their own.
But it was not enough to rob Niagara of their second W of the weekend.
The two wins are particularly important and show the Predators could potentially turn things around just in time for the playoffs.
With their remaining schedule featuring fewer top teams than earlier in the season, Taylor hopes to pick up some timely wins.
“It’s nice, we get a little bit of a break from the top teams. We’re playing against teams that we should beat,” he said. “I think we’ve underachieved as a team. We’ve been saying this is a better team and it really is.”
Taylor thinks a big issue is his players took a long time to come together as a team, which put them at their weakest point early in the season when they were playing their toughest opponents.
The resulting losses hurt morale.
“If we were winning games, everyone would have been happier. You can tell they’re happy, they played well and if that had happened a little bit more at the start of the season, the close games that we gave up we probably wouldn’t have given up because they’d have known how to win.”
The Predators are back at the Meridian Credit Union Arena this Friday, Jan. 19 at 7:30 p.m. when they play the Tottenham Railers.