For the second straight weekend the Niagara Predators followed up a Friday night loss with a Sunday afternoon win in Greater Metro Junior A
Hockey League (GMHL) action last week.
In a rare Friday night game on the road in Mississauga, the Preds suffered their first shut-out of the season at the hands of the Streetsville Flyers. Though Niagara outshot the Flyers 40-23, they just could not solve goalie Tayte Praycek in the home team’s net.
“It was a very, very tough loss,” head coach, general manager and owner Robert Turnbull told The Local. “I have to tip my hat to their goalie. He played really well. We had several opportunities to score, but it just didn’t happen.”
The scoreboard remained blank throughout the first period, but only 48 seconds into the second Flyers forward Nick Giamou got the credit for a goal that started with a scramble around the net, bounced off two players out front and caromed off a skate and past Niagara goalie Morgan Penwell, who was making his season debut for the Predators. Giamou also assisted on Cole Wigle’s empty net goal with 1:21 remaining to make it a 2-0 game.
“Penwell played exceptionally well also,” Turnbull said. “It was an unbelievable game. I told them ‘if you leave the rink angry because you lost, that’s okay. But don’t leave thinking you lost because you didn’t work hard. You should hold your heads high on your way out’. It was an awesome goaltending battle.”
The Predators had some power play chances in the third, knocking the puck off the crossbar and the post a few times, while Praycek continued his phenomenal play, stopping a number of other chances.
Like last weekend, Niagara was short-staffed, with forwards Mario Zitella, Georgy Kholmovsky, Dante Massi and Alessandro Massi as well as defenceman Logan Baillie all sitting out.
Also out of the lineup was Swedish forward Emil Eriksson. Turnbull passed on the news that the speedy winger has opted not to return to Canada to finish the season, which wraps up on March 6. Instead, he will be playing professionally in Åseda, Sweden in Alltrean Division 3.
As well, fellow Swede Jesper Eriksson (no relation), who left the team the previous weekend for a tryout with a team in Austria, has left the Predators permanently. The Preds’ leading scorer this season with 56 points (tied with Dante Massi), will be moving on to a Swedish pro team in the Hockeyettan league.
The short bench meant Niagara could only cycle two forward lines throughout the game, leaving some players in the unusual situation of actually wanting to come off the ice at times. Turnbull credited Gino Carter Squire, Dawson Walker and Reese Bisci as unsung heroes in Friday’s game.
Alexander Page joined the others on the sidelines for Sunday’s game in Plattsville as a result of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty Friday. Page continued with some choice words on the ice that earned the new Niagara forward, in only his third game with the team, a suspension for Sunday. Turnbull and assistant coach Connor Shipton had to rotate defencemen into the sixth forward slot just to keep two
Bisci thrived with all the extra ice time Sunday, picking up five points on two goals and three assists. His linemates Noah Caperchione, with a hat trick and a helper, and Jason Humphries, with two assists, accounted for all of the scoring in a 5-4 victory, with defenceman Maxwell Bredin adding an assist.
Caperchione got the ball rolling just 15 seconds into the first period, then added his second goal three minutes later, giving Niagara a 2-0 lead. Kyle Struth got the Lakers on the scoreboard before Bisci netted his first, then added a second goal to narrow the margin to 3-2. With Carter Squire in the penalty box, Plattsville’s Lucas Bast tied it up before the period ended.
Turnbull made a goaltending change before the second period began, replacing Jacob Collaco with David White. Bisci’s second of the night came on the power play at 8:32 into that period, but Plattsville’s Malcolm Campbell knotted the score yet again as that frame closed out.
Caperchione completed the hat trick five minutes into the final frame when Humphries fed him a pass from Niagara’s face-off circle to centre ice. Caperchione turned and beat two Plattsville defenders to sneak a wrist shot past goalie Rahul Bola for the winning goal.
Turnbull is hoping to have three lines for the upcoming weekend, which they open Friday night at home against the North York Renegades. The Predators hit the road for a Saturday night match in Windsor, then head in the other direction for a Sunday rematch at the second place Renegades’ home arena.
With two games this weekend against the Renegades, Niagara is going to have to find a way to solve forward Santino Foti, who has 29 goals and 63 assists on the season and is second in points in the GMHL’s South Division, fourth overall in the league.
“We really have to put a person on him, and we can do that when we have three-plus lines,” explains Turnbull. “We’re just going to have to keep an eye on him. He’s a gifted player, but it’s not just Foti, they have a few. We’re just going to have to stay close to him as best as we can and be aggressive.”
With seven defenders all healthy and ready to play this weekend, the plan is to continue to move one or two of them up to the forward position to keep fresh legs on the ice and stay close to the high-powered Foti.
“If we’re going to play with long sticks and not impede his progress, then we’re going to have a long day,” continues Turnbull. “But our defence has been playing great lately, with the return of Josh Davidson and Nathan Fehr. Everybody on this team right now is buying into having to do their job.”
The Predators are looking to pick up their first win this season against North York. Check that, they are hoping to pick up their first two wins against the Renegades, which would tie the season series at two wins apiece. Game time at the Meridian Credit Union Arena is 7:30 p.m. Friday.