“Tight” might be the word to describe the past weekend for the Jr. A Niagara Predators.
With two weekend road games, the Predators lost a 5-4 decision in overtime Saturday to the Northumberland Stars, then beat the Streetsville Flyers by the same score the following afternoon.
Sitting in fifth place in the south division of the Greater Metro Hockey League, the Predators ended a five-game losing streak Sunday with their victory over the Flyers.
Head coach Kevin Taylor is feeling positive but is not getting too far ahead of himself.
His team’s next opponents are the Bradford Bulls who, as of Tuesday were the only other undefeated team in the league’s Southern Division besides North York.
“It’s a start but we have a tough, tough game on Friday,” he said.
“Bradford’s first real test is (Wednesday) against North York.”
Meanwhile, Taylor’s happy to see his team get back in the win column and likes that at least Saturday’s loss being in overtime earns the Predators one point.
“Out of four points we got three on the weekend. That’s a positive. It was a disappointing loss – the overtime loss – but we came out with two on Sunday.”
Niagara’s Thomas McGrath opened the scoring against Streetsville on a power play halfway through the first period, then did the exact same five minutes later – sandwiching a Streetsville goal for a score of 2-1 after 20 minutes.
The Predators controlled the first half of the second period with two tallies by Anthony Tropea and one for Nick Savoie in the first six minutes. A late marker for Streetsville narrowed the gap to three going into the third but with just two more for the Flyers in the last period, the Predators skated away with their 5-4 win.
Taylor spoke in the past about weak second periods for the Predators and needing to capitalize on power plays but with three goals in the second and three on the power play, it seems his young team might be learning from their mistakes.
The coach said he tried to focus last weekend on having his players focused and mentally prepared before they even hit the ice.
“What we’re doing now, before we go out for warm up, the guys need to be ready 10 to 15 minutes beforehand and they need to sit in the room together and it’s just more of mental preparation I’m walking through,” he said.
“Are you mentally prepared for the game? They need to focus on what they need to do to be successful.”
While things may not have gone his way soon Saturday night, Taylor is not too upset over the overtime loss to Northumberland.
Things looked grim early on with the Stars taking a quick three-goal lead but Niagara bounced back in the second period to tie it up thanks to Jaroslav Dohnal, Nolan Wyers and Riley Ellis.
Halfway through the third Niagara’s Guy Manco used a one-man advantage to put his team out front. But with just five minutes to go, Northumberland’s Sheldon Purchase forced extra time.
Niagara kept things even for more than 18 minutes until Kurt Gibbs slipped one past goalie Ryan Santini to earn his team the win.
Taylor thinks his team showed promise after battling back from an early deficit but needs to pick things up before they get too far into the season.
“We were down three nothing after the first period. I challenged them, they came back. We’re learning how to battle now, we’re learning how to win,” he said.
“But coming down the road, closer to playoffs we can’t be giving up two goals in the third period to any team. We have to find a way to finish off the team completely instead of giving them time to think they can still continue to play with us.”
Meanwhile, off the ice Taylor is hoping to show the Predators are not actually all fangs and claws, by beginning a new initiative to help local animals in need find forever homes, starting with Jack the Cat.
But he hopes to make it a recurring theme to help get his players involved in the community.
“That may be one of the causes the boys may take on. If we can get this cat a home, maybe we can talk with the Humane Society about getting a pet to take on and we’ll try to get them adopted at one of the games, too.”
The Predators return to home ice for the first time in two weeks this Friday night, facing Bradford at the Meridian Credit Union Arena in Virgil. Puck drops at 7:30 p.m.