Two wins but two very different games for the Jr. A Niagara Predators last weekend.
It all started Friday night at home with a 6-5 win over the Windsor Aces in their third game of the 2022-23 Greater Metro Hockey League season.
The close win came as a shock to fans who saw the Predators up five goals after 40 minutes of play.
“I was basically like ‘You’ve made it a game now.’ It should not be this way,” said Predators head coach Kevin Taylor.
“It was a cakewalk. We were up 6-1, had full control of the game and now we have to start playing hockey again,” he said, recalling a third-period timeout pep talk to his team.
He said he told his team: “You’ve made them realize they have a chance to win.”
Niagara’s Guy Manco started off the scoring just shy of 12 minutes into the game, with Windsor tying things up a couple minutes later.
From there it was all Niagara with Predators Tyler Gearing and Wais Ayubi each scoring in the last three minutes of the first.
Anthony Tropea netted another four and a half minutes into the second, and Gearing and Manco each had a second by the period’s halfway mark.
An early goal in the third by Windsor brought the score to 6-2 but a five-minute major for boarding to Niagara’s Riley Ellis early in the period would prove his team’s undoing.
With Windsor netting three tallies before Ellis was out the box, it was a one-goal game for the last 10 minutes.
“He’s playing hard – which is nice – and he’s a big body but it has to be more controlled,” said Taylor of the 6 foot 1, 202-pound Ellis. “At the end of the day, we still won the game.”
Things fared better for Niagara during their Sunday afternoon road game against the St. George Ravens.
Playing St. George for the second time in four games, Niagara skated to a 4-1 victory, redemption for a 2-1 loss that started their season.
Taylor chalked the win up to his team following the game plan and their defence playing as part of the offence.
“I thought we were skating better, the guys were calmer, they weren’t rushing anything, and they took their time and controlled the puck,” he said. “You could see they’ve been working hard and listening.”
Outshooting and scoring the Ravens, Niagara’s Gearing and Leo Savin netted the only two goals of the first period for an early lead.
Niagara veteran Reese Bisci and newcomer Jaroslav Dohnal widened the gap to 4-0 after 40 minutes, with the lone Raven’s goal coming six minutes into the third.
The Predators return to the ice in Virgil this Friday night against the currently undefeated – and defending division champs – Durham Roadrunners.
Having entered double digits in all four of their games this season and winning three by a difference of 10 goals – the closest game being 10-6 over the Tottenham Thunder – Taylor is expecting a tough game.
But he remains optimistic.
“Tottenham gave them a good go and the other three teams are short players or in a rebuild,” the coach said.
“I think realistically we’re the first opposition they have other than Tottenham, so it’ll be a good test for us to see where we are.”
Game time Friday is 7:30 p.m. at the Meridian Credit Union Arena and will include a food drive for Newark Neighbours, so attendees are asked to bring non-perishable food items if they can.