The Greater Metro Hockey League’s 2022-23 regular season is officially over, bringing with it a respectable fourth-place finish for the Jr. A Niagara Predators.
A 6-4 win over the Streetsville Flyers last Friday night was enough to clinch fourth, giving Niagara home ice advantage in round one of the playoffs.
The Northumberland Stars and St. George Ravens were both only a few points behind Niagara before Friday’s game, but thanks to games-in-hand, the Predators needed just two points to ensure no one could pass them.
They got that many and more in what turned out to be a four-point game.
“We were supposed to go to Streetsville too but because they couldn’t get ice this was a four-point game,” said Predators head coach Kevin Taylor. “We got the four points and that’s all that matters right now.”
Having lost twice to the second-last place Flyers a week prior, it seemed Niagara was sending a message early on with Nick Savoie, Nolan Wyers and Cameron Savoie all scoring in the first 10 minutes. But the 3-0 lead would not last as goals from Streetsville at 13:22 and 16:29 narrowed the gap.
Not 20 seconds later, Anthony Tropea padded Niagara lead but it was short-lived with Streetsville answering back with 1:32 left in the period.
Niagara’s Declan Fogarty would get the lone goal of the second period, giving his team some breathing room heading into the last 20 minutes. Then Streetsville notched one 30 seconds in.
With fans on the edge of their seats for the remainder of the game, Tropea earned his second of the night at 6:09 for a two-goal lead that Niagara held for the last 14 minutes.
While the drama played great for the fans, Taylor was less pleased with how the game unfolded. Though he felt selfish and sloppy play led to an “ugly win,” he also credits the Preds’ opponents for keeping the pressure on.
“Streetsville’s a tough team to play because there’s no rhyme or reason for what they do out there. They looked terrible, then they came back, they played hard and they just didn’t give up,” he said.
“Tonight we had to adapt and change and right now, we didn’t adapt to anything.”
In the end, the win was all they needed, enough so that a 6-4 loss to Northumberland in their final game on Saturday meant only that the Predators would finish the season with two fewer points.
While this increased the Stars’ chances of finishing fifth, it would take St. George’s game Sunday afternoon to determine who Niagara would play in the first round of the playoffs.
According to Taylor, things would play out differently depending on who the Predators wound up facing in the best-of-three series.
“If you play St. George it will be more of a hockey game. The thing with Northumberland is they’re bigger, they’re a strong team and they go out to punish you. I’d rather see them play one of the other teams for the first round, which might make things more interesting in the second round.”
Ultimately St. George would come out on top, finishing fifth, three points behind Niagara. The Ravens beat the Windsor Aces Sunday but who sits on the visitors’ bench this Friday is inconsequential to Taylor.
“The plan this year was to finish fourth. It’s been rough to get to fourth but we got here and that was one of the goals that I had with the coaching staff. Now it’s just on to the next set of goals.”
The Predators start their best-of-three series against St. George this Friday, Feb. 24, at the Meridian Credit Union Arena in Virgil. Playoff action starts at 7:30 p.m.