The Niagara Predators run their winning streak to eight games after beating Windsor Friday and sweeping a home-and-home series against Northumberland this past weekend.
Their first meeting with the Windsor Aces this season was a lopsided affair in Virgil. The Aces brought only 13 players to the Meridian Credit Union Arena, leaving 10 back home. General Manager Johan Eriksson expected the small roster, as Windsor’s older players who attend university don’t usually board the bus for road trips.
Niagara outshot the Aces 24-3 in the first period, taking a 6-1 lead into the first intermission en route to a 10-3 win. Alexander Insulander led the way with three goals and an assist, while captain Mario Zitella added a pair of goals.
Also scoring Friday were Pontus Madsen, Jesper Eriksson, Henry-Pierre Jayet, Noah Caperchione and the newest Predator, Alessandro Massi, the younger brother of winger Dante Massi, Niagara’s leading scorer with 43 points.
Called up from the Junior C Niagara Riverhawks, Alessandro is three years younger and a few inches taller than his older brother. The age gap has meant that during their minor hockey years, they’ve never had a chance to play together officially until this opportunity with the Predators came about.
“I was hoping for it,” Alessandro tells The Local. “My brother is getting older, so there was just a short time left to see if we’d get to play together. It happened, and I’m pretty happy. My parents like watching us play together too.”
They had the chance this weekend to take some shifts together, and the joy on both of their faces was evident. Alessandro clearly admires his brother’s style on the ice.
“He plays like he’s 6’2”,” Alessandro says of Dante, who is listed as 5’7”. “He’s my hero. I’ve always looked up to him, and the way he plays. His work ethic is above anyone else I know.”
“He’s a really good two-way player,” Johan Eriksson says about Alessandro. “He can grind, he can skate, he’s smart. He’s going to help us a ton. They (the brothers) are not the same type of player but they complement each other.”
Though they came away with two more wins Saturday and Sunday against the Northumberland Stars, those games were remarkable for reasons other than the scoring.
In Saturday’s game in Colborne, a total of 90 minutes in penalties was handed out, 53 to the Stars and 37 to Niagara. Northumberland was given three 10-minute misconducts, and defenceman Liam Boyle was kicked out of the game, while Niagara’s Reese Bisci received a misconduct penalty in the second period.
The Predators took a 4-1 lead into the second intermission, but with defenceman Pontus Madsen serving a five-minute major for cross-checking, Northumberland tied it up with three power play goals to begin the third period. Jesper Eriksson and Henry-Pierre Jayet put the Predators back on top for good in a period that saw 32 minutes in penalties handed out and two fights.
The animosity carried over into Sunday afternoon’s tilt back in Niagara. It was clear from the first roughing penalty assessed 32 seconds in to Northumberland’s Matthew Bazarin, who ended Saturday’s game with a fight against Matthew Bredin of the Predators, that the Stars did not come to play hockey.
Pontus Madsen opened the scoring on the power play with his fifth goal of the weekend just eight seconds later. As the first period progressed, though, the Stars took 32 minutes in penalties and Bazarin was thrown out of the game for his continued rough play. Dante Massi, Mario Zitella, Jesper Erkisson and Brenden Morin all scored during a power play that lasted almost 10 minutes for Niagara.
Things settled down in the second as Northumberland’s Chance Hill and Logan Kofman solved Niagara goaltender Iain Riordan, but Jesper Eriksson scored twice more and Alessandro added a single to put the game out of reach for the Stars by the end of the second.
The ugliness returned for the third, as the Stars repeatedly shoved and cross-checked Niagara players after the whistle. Josh Davidson was run hard into the boards and suffered a separated shoulder. The referees assessed 26 more minutes in penalties to Northumberland.
The lone item of beauty in the third was a goal by Niagara defenceman Georgy Kholmovsky, who skated with the puck end-to-end, deking around multiple Stars to score a highlight reel goal on Northumberland’s Ryan Bray.
Immediately after that, things got rough again, and Northumberland’s Liam Chapman was handed a 10-minute misconduct. At that point, with more than four minutes left in the game, the Stars coaching staff sent the entire team off to the change room.
The Predators were left on the ice alone, whiling away the time as the clock ran down to make their 9-2 win official. It had to have been one of the most bizarre junior games ever played in Virgil.
“It’s ridiculous,” GM Eriksson said. “They had 18 penalties. They weren’t here to play hockey. They were out to hurt, and they did. In both games. Everyone on our team is feeling it, hurting somewhere from both of these games. I’m a bit mind-blown.”
Eriksson assumes the league will assess suspensions on some of the Stars for the incidents in both games. As of Sunday night, both Josh Davidson (shoulder) and Noah Caperchione (knee) were expected to miss an unspecified period of time with injuries suffered in the Northumberland games.
Head coach and team owner Robert Turnbull wouldn’t say much about the Northumberland players and coaching staff in a post-game interview, but instead lauded his own squad for their comportment throughout the game.
“I told our guys to be quiet and act accordingly,” Turnbull said. “I expected it to get a little crazy, and it did. We turned the other cheek. Our goal this weekend was to get six points, and we got 6 points.”
At roughly the half-way point of the GMHL season, the Predators are 16-and-4 and hold third place in the South Division, two points behind North York and four behind first place Durham. Their last loss, somewhat ironically a 3-1 decision on the road to the Stars, was Nov. 13.
The Predators will host a short-handed Windsor this Friday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m., andthe 5-and-17 Streetsville Flyers Sunday, Dec. 12 at 3:30 p.m.