When the Niagara Predators finally return to the Meridian Credit Union Arena ice to restart their 2021-2022 Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League (GMHL) schedule Friday night, they will be suiting up a couple of new players.
The Predators have added 6’7” Morgan Penwell to their goaltending ranks. Owner, coach and general manager Robert Turnbull had signed Penwell last year to the other team he owns, the St. George Ravens, before the season was shut down due to COVID.
Prior to last season, the 21-year-old Bracebridge resident had played for the GMHL’s London Lakers, where he went 7-8-0 with a 4.90 goals against average and a .902 save percentage with one shutout in 2019-2020.
Penwell joins Iain Riordan, Jacob Collaco and David White as the fourth member of Predators’ goaltending corps. Recently acquired Jacob Saunders, who had yet to appear in a game for Niagara, was moved to the Tottenham Thunder to make room for Penwell.
In exchange for Saunders, the Preds also pick up 20-year-old Alex Andrews from the Thunder. A four-year GMHL veteran, Andrews, Tottenham’s captain, has amassed 89 points in 91 career games, with 30 points in 21 games this season.
“Andrews can play forward and defence and will add a veteran and physical presence to our lineup,” Turnbull says. “And Morgan solidifies our crease as we make our push for the Russell Cup.”
Friday will mark 46 days since the last game for the Predators, a 5-3 loss on the road to the South Division-leading North York Renegades. The team was scheduled for practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week, with a possible game-day skate being mulled over for Friday.
Turnbull knows there might be a bit of rust to shake off the skates before hosting the Durham Roadrunners.
“I’m sure the guys are still in very good shape, but some of them may have slacked off a little bit,” he laughs. “They’re going to skate, a lot of high speed competitive drills, 2-on-0, 2-on-1, 3-on-2 non-stop. There won’t be a lot of instruction until Wednesday or Thursday, when we get into a little more structure.”
Turnbull also expects to gather his troops, along with assistant coach and assistant general manager Connor Shipton, for some video sessions.
“We all take a look at the video,” Turnbull tells The Local. “It’s a very pleasant surprise that most of the players look at it too. When I ask them questions, and when we run through certain drills, they understand.”
Turnbull insists that he’s still not done making moves.
“Am I still looking to add a couple more forwards?” he asks. “Yes I am. I’m still in negotiations with a couple of players. The teams that have a chance to do well are looking for the final pieces. We have a great group of players that all get along. We need to make sure that whoever we bring in is of the same fabric.”
The Predators now have 13 confirmed game dates prior to the end of the regular season on March 6. Turnbull was able to work with the league and the other teams to reschedule two of the three matches that had yet to be decided upon as of last week.
A fourth home game, scheduled for March 4 against Tottenham, has been added, as well as a ninth road game. He is still trying to find a slot to fit in one more game against their rival St. George Ravens. That one will either be played on the road in St. George or possibly another Niagara area arena that has a time slot open.
With the return of live events this week, there is a 50 per cent capacity limit in place for the Meridian Credit Union Arena, as at all such facilities. With the local arena approved for a normal capacity of 1,000 fans, including standing room, that means there is more than enough room to hold a usual Friday night Predators crowd of around 100 to 125.
The visiting Tottenham Thunder hold down the bottom spot in the GMHL’s South Division, with a record of 3-21-0-1. On Sunday, the Predators head to Windsor to take on the Aces for a 4 p.m. game.
Game time Friday night is 7:30 p.m. Adult tickets are $8 while seniors and students are admitted for $5. Kids under 10 are admitted free.