Aggressive shooting, a balanced attack, strong defence and superb goaltending gave the Niagara Predators a convincing weekend sweep of a home-and-home series against the Tottenham Thunder.
Oskar Spinnars Nordin notched his first shutout of the season, a dominating 5-0 win in front of a home crowd of 101 spectators at the Meridian Credit Union Arena.
The Preds jumped out to an early lead on defenceman Brett Lee’s unassisted first period goal. Jesper Eriksson and Manitoba native Gino Carter Squire, who was celebrating his birthday, followed to spot Niagara a 3-0 lead in the first 20 minutes.
Niagara peppered Thunder goalie Jack Boudreau with 32 shots in the first, while at the other end of the rink Spinners Nordin turned away all 31 Tottenham attempts. Both teams ended the game with 61 shots on goal.
Alexander Insulander scored on a wrist shot about five minutes into the second period. Just two minutes later, Jesper Eriksson was levelled on a drive toward the Tottenham net, but was able to push the puck to Predators captain Mario Zitella. Zitella fed a perfect pass to linemate Dante Massi, who knocked it past Boudreau for the fifth Niagara goal.
Insulander almost added a sixth one for the Predators in the third period, when he stole the puck from a Thunder defenceman, but was stopped on a breakaway by Tottenham goalie Mack Miracle, who replaced Boudreau for the final period.
Team captain Zitella assisted on every goal except Lee’s. After four games, he leads the Predators with four goals and five assists.
After Niagara’s first two games the previous weekend, when they took a number of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, coach Andrew Whalen was happy the team was only penalized twice for minor infractions in the third period.
“We talked about it all week, we just kept reiterating,” Whalen confirmed. “We know what the refs are like, just keep your mouths shut and play through. If we play Predators hockey then we’ll be fine. If we get yapping and let the refs and the other team get in our heads, then it’s a tough situation. I was very proud of the guys tonight.”
Whalen was excited for Spinnars Nordin’s first shutout of the season.
“I know he wanted to bounce back after the St. George game,” Whalen said, referencing last Sunday’s 4-2 road loss. ”I’m really proud of him, he played great today.”
Spinnars Nordin was quick to share the credit with his teammates.
“The boys kept it safe and clear in front of the goal,” he told The Local. “I kept my calm. It feels great to get the first shutout. And the guys deserve it. These guys here are the most talented defencemen. They keep it safe every game.”
As strong as their defensive game was this past weekend, the Predators ranks on the blue line continue to be depleted. Niagara Falls native Logan Baillie watched both games from the other side of the boards while recovering from a knee injury at St. George on Oct. 3.
“It was near the end of the game, just the way I fell back on my leg,” Baillie said. “It’s a sprained MCL (medial collateral ligament). I guess I’m kind of glad that it happened as early as it did, so I can recuperate quickly for the rest of the season.”
With the Grade 12 A.N. Myer student expected to be out for another two to three weeks, the Predators lineup is down to three defencemen. But general manager Johann Eriksson expects some new players to make their debut for Niagara this coming weekend. He continues to hope for the arrival of Russian defenceman Daniil Petrov, and has made inroads with another defender from France.
On Saturday in Tottenham, back-up goalie William Fagano, like Spinnars Nordin a native of Sweden, got the start against the Thunder. Fagano continued the run of superb goaltending for the Predators, stopping 53 of 55 shots in a 6-2 victory, and earning first star honours in the game.
Niagara jumped out to 2-0 lead in the first, with a power play goal by Insulander and one in even strength by Jesper Eriksson.
Tottenham’s Alex Fornari made it 2-1 just over a minute into the second period, but the Predators roared back, scoring four more before the 40 minute mark. Zitella scored twice while Emil Eriksson and Dante Massi also had goals.
The Thunder scored their second goal in the third period on the power play while forward Reese Bisci was in the penalty box serving two minutes for elbowing.
The Predators will try to avenge their game 2 loss to St. George in a home game this Friday, October 15 at 7:30 p.m. Adult tickets are $8, seniors and students get in for $5, while children under 10 years old are admitted for free. For enquiries about season tickets, call general manager Johan Eriksson at 905-341-7199.
They’ll close out the weekend with a Sunday afternoon game against Streetsville at Mississauga’s Vic Johnston Community Centre arena Oct. 17. Game time is 12:30 p.m.