In their return to the ice after a 46-day break, the Niagara Predators picked up two of a possible four points this weekend.
The 7-5 win on the road Sunday in Windsor was their fourth victory over the Aces, but the 5-4 loss Friday night at home to the Durham Roadrunners was a decision that stung for owner, general manager and coach Robert Turnbull.
Niagara skated well with Durham for most of the game, dishing out as many hard hits as they took, but just couldn’t put together enough TNT to knock the Roadrunners off their game.
The loss is disappointing, Turnbull said Friday night. “We had a lot of time off, we got three practices in this week, we got two extra skates in, and then we come out and lose. We have a lot of work to do. I’m not displeased, they played well, came out strong, but they couldn’t keep it up for 60 minutes.”
Niagara’s Noah Caperchione opened the scoring at 3:23 of the first period, assisted by Mario Zitella and Dante Massi. But Jaden Smith and Giulian Pronesti replied for Durham later in that frame.
In the second, with Predators newcomer Alexander Andrews in the sin bin, Isaac Smith put the Roadrunners up 3-1. Andrews assisted just over two minutes later, along with Gino Carter Squire, on Massi’s 13th goal of the season, closing the gap to a single, but Durham’s Kyle Shepherd made it 4-2 before the second intermission.
The Predators roared back in the third, with Andrews scoring his first goal as a Predator, assisted by Pontus Madsen and Reese Bisci. At one point in the third Predators goalie David White lost his stick with the Roadrunners pressuring in the Niagara zone. He managed to fend off shot after shot as the rest of the team checked closely for almost two minutes before a stoppage in play.
With just over six minutes left in the game, Niagara defenceman Brenden Morin rushed the Durham net, set up by a pass from Massi, and was taken down just as he slipped the tying goal past goalie Zach Smirniw.
Play ran end to end for the next five minutes, until Turnbull called a timeout to give his players a breather with just 1:36 left in the game. Only 12 seconds later a turnover in the Niagara end resulted in Kyle Smith firing a shot past White that found the upper left corner of the net for Durham’s 5-4 win.
The Predators were without their top scorer Jesper Eriksson, who was off in Austria for a tryout with a professional team in the Alps Hockey League. Fellow Swede Emil Eriksson has not yet returned following the holiday break, and speedy centre Zitella went down with a shoulder injury in the first period. Defenders Joshua Davidson and Nathan Fehr also sat out Friday.
“They’re very disciplined, they play well positionally, they’re a really good hockey team,” Turnbull said about Durham. “We can’t play them with only 10 forwards. I can’t ask these guys to play the way they need to play if they’re getting too much ice.”
Three players made their Predators debut Friday night. The loss was White’s first time between the pipes for Niagara, and he kicked away 35 of 40 shots in the contest. It was the first game for Alexander Page of Niagara Falls, who last played for the defunct Niagara Whalers, while Alexander Andrews, picked up last week in a trade with Tottenham, notched his first goal and assist for Niagara.
Friday’s result moved Durham into a virtual tie with North York for first place in the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League’s South Division. The St. George Ravens are in second place, with Niagara three points behind them in third.
Zitella sat out Sunday’s game in Windsor, as did Alessandero Massi and Georgy Kholmovsky, leaving the team to face Windsor with only eight forwards and six defenders. Windsor, however, had only 13 players active Sunday, including two goalies.
Caperchione again got the ball rolling with an early first period goal, but Windsor bounced back with three in the first 20 minutes. Goals by Carter Squire, Page and Madsen had the game tied at 4-4 by the end of the second. Bisci, Insulander and forward Jason Humphries added a goal each in the third to cement the victory. Iain Riordan picked up the win in net.
The Predators have a rare Friday night road game in Streetsville this week, and close out the weekend with a visit to the Plattsville Lakers Sunday afternoon.
Play-by-play announcer Michael Frena will not be taking the trip with the team. Sunday’s game should be available through Plattsville’s streaming feed via gmhl.tv at 3:30 p.m.
Jesper Eriksson Making a Splash in Austria
Popular and prolific Swedish forward Jesper Eriksson signed a two-game try-out contract with professional team VEU Feldkirch in the Alps Hockey League, which has teams in Austria and Italy. Former Predators general manager Johan Eriksson made the connection for Jesper (no relation) via his new role as director of hockey operations at Marych Sports Agency. Jesper wowed the crowd in his first game last week, scoring the tying goal to force overtime. VEU Feldkirch went on to win 2-1 in the extra frame over HC Merano.
“As much as I would love for him to stay,” Turnbull told The Local, “it’s a great opportunity for him. He scored in his first game and they put him on the first line (Friday night).”
Predators in Top 10 in GMHL Power Rankings
The Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League released its team power rankings on Feb. 2. The Niagara Predators were ranked sixth in the 26-team league, which comprises three divisions. The North Division’s Temiscaming Titans, with a record of 24-1-0 and a goal differential of 109, hold down the top spot in the rankings. They’re followed by the West Division’s undefeated High Prairie Red Wings and the North York Renegades, tied for the lead in the South Division with a 22-4-0 record. Durham and St. George round out the four South Division teams in the top 10, with the North also laying claim to four spots in the rankings.