The Niagara Predators have had a flurry of signing activity the past two weeks.
Three new members of the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League (GMHL) team were recently announced, including two who will be joining the Virgil-based team from overseas.
Askar Aimanbetov is re-signing, as he was a member of the team in 2018-2019 when the Predators were still playing out of Toronto. The 20-year-old native of Astana, Kazakhstan amassed 33 points in 26 games that year for the Preds before moving on to play for the Seacoast Spartans of the Eastern Hockey League (EHL), and then the Minnesota Blue Ox of the US Premier Hockey league.
“He brings size,” Predators general manager Andrew Ferlatte says. “He’s a power forward, very similar to what Alex Page brought to the Predators for the playoffs last season. He has the ability to go into the corners and help out our younger kids.”
Aimanbetov is currently home in Kazakhstan and is planning to arrive in Canada later this month. Ferlatte doesn’t expect any delays in his arrival despite the unrest in Eastern Europe.
Niagara had its eye on 6’0”, 181 pound forward Michael Santini of Waterdown before the GMHL entry draft this spring. Santini was scooped up by the Northern Alberta Tomahawks before the Predators could call his name.
“We had to acquire him in a trade,” Ferlatte explains. “He’s a speedy forward with a great release. He’s someone that we are going to rely on to put the puck in the net for the team.”
The winger brings with him almost 100 games of Greater Ontario Junior B Hockey League (GOJHL) experience, including playoffs, split between the St. Catharines Falcons and the Niagara Falls Canucks.
Finally, the team signed 17-year-old Russian goaltender Gorgii Kodzaev, who has been playing in that country’s under-20 Division 1. He’ll be joining another new signing in the goalie corps in 18-year-old Grimsby native Warren Krogman, the team’s fifth round draft pick.
“He was brought to us by an agent,” says Ferlatte of Kodzaev. “We’ve had a very good track record of moving goaltenders on to the major junior levels and colleges and universities. This was obviously the best fit for Gorgii. It speaks very well about our organization’s reputation overseas.”
The Predators next on-ice skills training session at the Gale Centre in Niagara Falls is this Sunday afternoon, and they will return to the ice for an open skate Wednesday, Aug. 10.
“We’re trying to get a head start compared to other teams,” he says. “The sessions have been going really well. It should give us an advantage heading into the season.”
Ferlatte is busy trying to line up both a trainer and an equipment manager for the upcoming season. He’s hoping to connect with Brock University’s sports management program for some co-op placements.
As well, the push is still on to recruit local billet families to host players from out of town.
“We have a large surplus of players that will need billets that we could bring in,” he explains. “We’re hesitant to bring in some of them until we get some billets on our side here.”
Billet families receive $550 per month for each player they take in, as well as season tickets to the Predators home games. They are expected to provide a private room and meals for their guests. Interested families can email Ferlatte at firstname.lastname@example.org or team owner Robert Turnbull at email@example.com.
Tickets on sale for fundraiser game between Erie Otters and Ice Dogs
Tickets are now on sale for the Sept. 9 game hosted by the Erie Otters at Virgil’s Meridian Credit Union Arena. Tickets for the game between the Otters and the Niagara Ice Dogs are only $10, with proceeds going to the NOTL Minor Hockey Club. They are available at Phil’s Independent Grocer.