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Sports: Predators notch first win of new year after extended layoff
Niagara Predators goalie Ryan Santini faces down an offensive chance by Bradford's Esa Patton (#91). Kevan Dowd

The Jr. A Niagara Predators hit the ice for the first time this year on Friday night but could not shake off the holiday rust in time to best the Bradford Bulls.

One night later the Predators skated to their first victory of 2023 with a 4-0 decision over the Tottenham Thunder.

The Predators lost 6-2 to the Bulls after a nearly three-week hiatus thanks to a cancelled game on Dec. 23 and the holiday break.

Head coach Kevin Taylor feels the long break and tough opponents contributed to the loss.

“We had a two-week break – really three with the cancelled game – we had two practices and it’s tough to come back against a team like this,” he said. “But I thought our guys played well.”

The Bulls managed four goals before Niagara’s Jaroslav Dohnal was able to put his team on the scoreboard 12 minutes into the second period. Anthony Tropea notched a second for the Predators six minutes later for a two-goal difference heading into the third.

Unfortunately, Niagara was unable to put anything else past Bradford’s Dominic Marquis and the Bulls would earn two more tallies – the last on an empty net.

In the face of the loss, Taylor was still proud of the fight his team put up and viewed it as a promising start, just so long as they can keep the pressure on against future opponents in the season’s final run.

“That’s going to be the hardest part, especially tomorrow going into Tottenham where we’ve won 8-1, 7-1, just making sure the guys know it’s not point night, we have a job to do and we have to do it right,” he said Friday night.

“Hopefully they can come out, play well and get the two points and see what happens from there.”

They would not disappoint, with Cameron Savoie netting his first of the night five minutes into the game and a second with just over seven minutes left in the third period.

A power play goal by Declan Fogarty at the 5:29 mark of the second period, Cole Ellis scoring unassisted a minute and a half later, and Ryan Santini shrugging off all 53 shots that came his way meant a 4-0 win for the Predators.

Taylor still thinks his team could have done better against a team they have beaten by a much wider margin before.

“They weren’t as intense as the Bradford game,” he said.

“We took a couple penalties that took the flow out of the game but we played a good defensive game, we got the shutout for Ryan (Santini). I think a lot of guys thought it might have been an easy walk – we beat them 8-1, 7-1 in previous games – so they think the same outcome is going to happen.”

With 12 games left in the regular season, Taylor is hoping his team can put together enough wins to push for a more favourable finish heading into the playoffs. Now they sit in seventh place in the Greater Metro Hockey League’s south division.

“Hopefully we can put together half a dozen wins in a row and separate us from everybody else and get up to where we know we can be,” he said in reference to the division’s weaker teams.

But when it comes to more challenging opponents like the St. George Ravens and Durham Roadrunners, Taylor is not counting his team out.

“The Ravens are struggling right now with lots of injuries and with the Durham team, I think they’re beatable. They have a good team, a good puck-moving team but if we play our systems that we’re trying to get down pat, I think we’ll be OK.”

Before then, the Predators play Tottenham, for the fourth time, at home this Friday. Though he is confident in his team, he remains cautious.

“With Tottenham we just have to play within our limits. We can’t go in with the mindset they’re going to be an easy win because we did that before with Windsor and we lost.”

“We just have to put forward a strong effort and we’ll get back to our winning ways, getting everybody some ice time, learning the systems and everybody will be happy.”

The Predators host Tottenham this Friday, Jan. 13, at the Meridian Credit Union Arena. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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