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Sunday, March 3, 2024
Sports: Preds earn four points in an up-and-down weekend
The Predators' Isaac Locker works to help kill off a penalty in the team's win over the last-place Toronto Flyers on Sunday afternoon. KEVAN DOWD

The Jr. A Niagara Predators have moved up a spot in the standings after a weekend of ups and downs that led to four points in three games.

Now in sixth place in the Greater Metro Hockey League’s south division, the Predators’ first two points of the weekend came as a surprise with news just hours before puck-drop that the second-place Durham Roadrunners would have to forfeit their Friday night game.

The Predators hoped for another two points Saturday but lost 9-4 to the first place North York Renegades, only to finish the weekend on a high with a 5-1 win over the Toronto Flyers at home Sunday afternoon.

“I thought that we dominated the game,” Predators head coach said Kevin Taylor afterward.

“Third period we went a little into a lull but I kind of expected that. When it comes to games like this it’s just trying to manage the players’ ice time, trying to get everyone into the game.”

Niagara’s Luca Fernandez netted the only goal of the first 20 minutes with just 37 seconds left in the period. They grew the lead to four by the second intermission thanks to Shane Kaplan, a second tally from Fernandez, and Georgy Kholmovsky.

Fernandez completed a hat-trick one minute into the last period it was looking like goalie Mike Mankowski would earn a shutout, but Julian Ferreira notched the Flyers’ only marker with 12 minutes to go.

“It’s two points and that’s all the matters right now so we just have to get some wins together and move up in the standings,” said Taylor. “And we’ve moved up a little bit so that’s nice.”

Though Taylor is happy with the victory, he was particularly pleased with his team’s on-ice performance.

While some teams opt to run up the score against weaker opponents, “We try not to,” he said.

“I put guys in in situations they’re not used to, played guys more than they would regularly play because when we go against better teams, we’re going to go with our top guys.”

Better teams mean opponents like the North York Renegades, who have a nearly perfect record this season.

The Predators have never managed to get the better of them but they have mostly been able to hold their own against a team that sits 20 points ahead of them.

Though the 9-4 final score might indicate otherwise, Saturday night was no exception, with the Predators leading 4-3 after 20 minutes.

In a back-and-forth first period, Fernandez managed to sneak two past North York’s Blake Bowler, in addition to tallies from Guy Manco and Nick Savoie.

North York tied things up early in the second, took the lead halfway through the game but never really ran away with it until the last period.

“We outplayed them for two periods,” said Taylor. “In the third period we were terrible. We didn’t get any goaltending. That was the bottom line of that game.”

Taylor also blames “mental conditioning” for contributing to the loss.

“It’s a very fragile team in the aspect that they get a goal or two scored against them and it’s tough for them to battle through it and I think it’s just that we haven’t strung together a lot of wins.”

But perhaps most importantly was Taylor noticing that his team had gotten away from the individual play that has cost them too often this season.

“We played a lot better as a team. We were moving the puck more,” he said.

“That’s what the guys need to realize: when we move the puck, the game is so much nicer to watch and you don’t see the individual as much. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

The Predators play just one game in the next week – on the road against the Tottenham Railers. They are back in action at the Meridian Credit Union Arena Friday, Dec. 8 against North York.

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