Dante Massi’s emergence as a team leader and a top scoring threat in the Greater Metro Hockey League seems complete following two wins by the Niagara Predators this weekend.
Massi picked up nine points over the two games, five in a 6-3 at-home win over St. George Friday, and another four in a 6-1 Saturday road win over the Plattsville Lakers in Tavistock.
Massi credits his new all-Italian-Canadian line of him, relative newcomer Noah Caperchione, and team captain Mario Zitella for his recent success. On Friday, they were named first, second and third stars respectively in a game that threatened to turn ugly in the last 10 minutes.
Massi opened the scoring at the halfway point of the first period, knocking a backhand shot behind Ravens goalie Christian Lynch. Some late period defensive lapses, however, with Ravens attackers left alone near Predators goaltender Iain Riordan, resulted in St. George taking a 2-1 lead into the dressing room.
It took just over a minute into the second period for Zitella to knot the score at 2-2, with Massi and defenceman Pontus Madsen picking up assists. Massi added his second goal 13 minutes later, and assisted on Caperchione’s last-minute marker to give the Preds a 4-2 lead.
In the third period some confusion about what the Ravens thought was a goal began a bizarre series of events in the game. Alex Insulander was handed a penalty for hooking on that play, and Ravens leading scorer Mike Marchesan netted his second goal of the game shortly after the Preds returned to full strength.
The much larger Ravens squad began throwing their weight around more consistently. Some physical back-and-forth between Zitella and Brodie Thoms that began in the Ravens zone continued at centre ice, where Zitella turned to face Thoms. The 6’1” Thoms pulled hard on the 5’7” Zitella’s facemask, and had to be restrained by a referee, whom Thoms proceeded to shove away from him. He was given a five-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and escorted to his dressing room, all the while shouting profanity back at Zitella.
Riordan stopped the Ravens twice on shorthanded breakaways, then the Predators finally capitalized on the advantage, with Caperchione and Madsen assisting on a goal by defenceman Georgy Kholmovskyl. A minute later, Massi completed his first hat trick as a Predator. That caused Brayden Pickett of the Ravens to lose his cool, and he was thrown out of the game with a 10-minute major.
Team owner Robert Turnbull, who has now officially removed the “qualification from his status as coach, was happy with the way the Predators conducted themselves in the confrontational situations.
“I’m not going to comment on some of the things that went on,” Turnbull told The Local after the game, “it was a disappointment. But our kids played their hearts out. We had a plan, and it worked out.”
Turnbull compared team scoring leader Massi to the Eveready Bunny, as well as to another animal.
“He’s a horse,” Turnbull exclaimed. “If a coach had 20 of those kids, they would go undefeated. Two of his goals were highlight-reel goals like you watch on Sportsnet.”
Massi, like linemate Zitella a 5’7” forward, routinely leaned into the backchecking of much larger Ravens players to shake off checks and move in on Lynch in the St. George net.
“Going into my minor midget year, my coaches told me to work out, to work on my core strength and my legs,” Massi said. “I just kind of kept those routines going, and it works. I do get lit up some times, but for the most part I can stay on my feet and protect myself.”
Massi’s five goals and four assists followed an eight-assist performance a week earlier. The way he, Zitella and Caperchione passed the puck around on offensive drives Friday, it was like each knew precisely where the other would be every time.
“We kind of got together just last week when we started to put all those points up,” he said, when asked about his linemates. “I played with these guys in the past (on previous teams), so the chemistry is already there. We are just clicking out there, and it was allowing me to get some chances too.”
His 29 assists on the season make him second in the league in that statistic, while he is currently Niagara’s leading scorer, five points up on Zitella.
“It’s pretty humbling to be first right now,” Massi said. “But at the same time, it could be any one of us, everybody’s pretty close in talent.”
Massi’s two goals and two assists led the Predators to Saturday’s 6-1 victory, giving him first star honours for the second straight night. In that game, the Predators took a 4-0 lead into the third period and cruised to a fairly easy victory. Goaltender Jacob Collaco, picked up in a trade with the Ravens last week, turned back 36 Plattsville shots for a win in his first game as a Predator.
Riordan and Collaco will be bearing the brunt of the minutes in the Niagara net for the remainder of the season. The Predators lost their number one goaltender Oskar Spinnars Nordin to the Bismarck Bobcats of the North American Hockey League.
GM Johan Eriksson said he got a call last Sunday that the North Dakota-based team wanted Spinnars Nordin, who was leading the GMHL with a 0.952 save percentage.
“We asked him, and he wanted to go,” Eriksson said. “His goal is a (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division 1 scholarship. There are already three schools looking at him and this gets him one step closer to that goal. It’s a huge loss for us. He is such a good player. We knew this could happen.”
“We all wished him well,” Turnbull added. “That’s what our organization, and every organization I’ve ever been with, has done. When I got the phone call, of course I allowed a player, no matter who it was, to move up. We’ll stay in contact. I do believe he’ll get a D1 scholarship out of it. He’s as good as any goaltender I’ve ever had.”
The Predators have their second three-game weekend coming up, starting with a Friday home game against the 5-and-14 Windsor Aces. Game time is 7:30 p.m. They’ll travel to Northumberland Saturday night, and the Stars will follow the Preds back to Niagara for a 3 p.m. visit Sunday to the Meridian Credit Union Arena in Virgil. Adult tickets are $8, $5 for seniors and students,
while kids under 10 are admitted free.