A weekend with no games scheduled might just be what the hockey doctor ordered for the Niagara Predators of the GMHL.
General manager Johan Eriksson tells The Local that defencemen Logan Baillie and Brett Lee, both of whom have spent time on the injured list, participated fully in last week’s practices. That means when they take to the Meridian Credit Union Arena ice Friday night the team should have its longest bench yet this season.
“Right now we don’t have any injuries,” Eriksson says. “It’s difficult to say exactly how many, but we’ll probably be increasing by between four and seven players from what we have had.”
The return of Baillie and Lee, along with recent additions such as Pontus Madsen, Maxwell Bredin, Henri-Pierre Jayet and back-up goaltender Justin Appleton should allow the Predators to stay fresh by playing shorter shifts in their three games this weekend.
Most likely, that bigger line-up will be sharing space with team owner Robert Turnbull, as Eriksson says the team is not yet ready to name their new permanent coach. He does say the search is narrowing, and he’s hoping to bring in someone with more local roots than the recently-departed Andrew Whalen.
“We have two names right now,” he says, “but we need options. We need it to be someone local enough to be able to do the drive. I would say someone from within the Niagara region, if possible, Hamilton at the farthest.”
Another newcomer, Port Colborne native Noah Caperchione, played his first game with the Predators the previous Friday in their 5-2 loss to North York. Eriksson says the arrival of the 21-year-old Greater Metro Hockey League number one draft pick was made possible through the sponsorship of Andrew Perrie of Revel Realty.
“I saw a post by Johan on a Facebook group looking for sponsors,” Perrie says. “I thought, what a great way to get involved and to get our name out there. And it was aligned perfectly with my passions.”
Perrie is one of the biggest boosters of the noon-hour soft-puck shinny league played every weekday in Virgil. Monday to Friday, Perrie is there lacing up his skates.
The Barrie native knew Eriksson was moving to Niagara Falls from the Muskoka area, and was finding it difficult to know where to turn locally to make connections.
“He didn’t know anybody,” says Perrie. “So I helped them by getting contacts for equipment and travel, and I helped them find some places for the out-of-town players to live.”
When Perrie discovered that Caperchione had not yet joined the team because of the cost, he stepped in with his first monetary donation to the Predators.
“He’s a really good kid,” Perrie says. “The team wanted him really badly. He needed a little extra help. A hockey stick can cost up to $500. If you compare how much it costs to play today versus five years ago, it’s gone through the roof.”
Eriksson is excited for what Caperchione brings to the team. The right-handed shooting forward has played almost 200 games for Port Colborne and Caledonia in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, collecting 53 goals and 67 assists along the way.
“Noah hasn’t been skating for a while,” Eriksson says, “so he needs a couple of weeks to get into the groove. But he will be an amazing player for us and we couldn’t have made that happen without Andrew’s help.”
Eriksson says Perrie has also begun to assist the Predators in lining up more sponsors for the team. It’s a strategy that some teams do really well in the GMHL, while others flounder. The Predators hope that as they establish themselves in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the support from local businesses will grow.
Perrie wants to see the team be successful in the town. With thee young boys of his own (Hudson, five years old; Kade, 17 months; and Jagger five months), he feels it is important that young people see a local team playing hockey at a higher level, giving them something to strive for while learning to love the game through the local minor system.
“It’s something that is incredibly fitting for Niagara-on-the-Lake,” he says. “We needed something like this. This is a great hockey town, and there are lots of kids living here. The timing is great.”
“My goal is to get people to come out to the games,” he continues, “to get the team more exposure. To use my connections to help with funding and bring really good players on board so they can have a strong team.”
With Eriksson and team owner Turnbull, Perrie has been discussing the possibility of organizing a charity game of some sort. And with the push on right now from some local citizens to convince the town to support three outdoor rinks, he doesn’t see why there couldn’t be an outdoor “heritage” game this winter, similar to what the National Hockey League has been doing for years.
The Predators have their busiest weekend yet this season, starting at home with a Friday, Nov. 12 home game against the 6-and-6 Plattsville Lakers at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday they travel to Colborne for an evening contest against the Northumberland Stars. The weekend concludes with the Stars visiting the Preds for the first Sunday matinee at the Meridian Credit Union arena. Game time Sunday is 3 p.m.