On the positive side, the Niagara Predators losing streak came to an end this weekend. On the negative side, however, the streak reached five games Saturday before they could record their fourth win of the season Sunday at Thornhill’s Paramount Ice Complex.
Another slow start to Saturday’s game put the Predators down 3-0 in the first period to the Northumberland Stars in Colborne. As in other games this season, Niagara allowed their opponents to capitalize on mistakes made in their own zone for two of the goals. The Preds were sure Cole Ellis had scored a goal in that frame that would have tied the game 1-1, but it was disallowed by the referees.
“The referee said the puck didn’t go over the goal line,” Taylor explained Sunday night. “Looking at the game film, there’s really no way they could have actually seen that. I think they assumed, based on where the puck was and where it should have been, that it didn’t go in.”
Niagara came storming back in the second period, with Jaroslav Dohnal, Nolan Wyers and Riley Ellis all finding the net in the first ten minutes of play, tying the score 3-3.
Near the end of the second period, Riley Ellis gave Stars goalie Lukas Novy a push into the net with his stick. At the ensuing whistle, Aidan Robinson of the Stars dropped his gloves and started punching Ellis, who tried to defend himself. Both players were hit with five-minute majors for fighting and game misconducts, resulting in their ejection for the remainder of the contest. Northumberland’s Justice Scheltgen was also thrown from the game.
At 10 minutes into the third period, with Northumberland’s Kurt Gibbs in the penalty box for tripping, Guy Manco scored on the power play to give Niagara its first lead of the game. But five minutes later Sheldon Purchase notched his second of the game for the Stars to tie it up and force overtime.
With just three minutes left in the overtime period, Cole Ellis was called for tripping, giving the Stars a man advantage. Kurt Gibbs capitalized on the opportunity to give Northumberland the 5-4 victory.
“There was a face-off in their zone,” Taylor said, “their defenceman went behind the net, Ellis went after him to take the puck, their guy stepped on Cole’s stick and they called him for tripping. It was a questionable call. To have it end like that was so disappointing.”
Taylor said his young players knew they had let a game they should have won slip away from them Saturday. “We outplayed them, but we’re just not getting the bounces,” he told The Local. “I don’t think we’re working hard enough all the time. If you don’t work harder than the other team when it counts you’re not going to get those bounces to go your way.”
The Riley Ellis ejection Saturday meant he was unavailable for Sunday’s game against the 0-and-10 Streetsville Flyers. Nevertheless, the Preds skated to a 5-4 victory, keeping the Flyers winless on the season.
Thomas McGrath got the scoring started 12 minutes into the game with his first of two power play goals in the opening period. Vasil Vasilev replied with one for the Flyers.
“He got his first goal (of the season),” Taylor said of McGrath, the 6’3” 18-year-old forward from Thunder Bay. “He just banged away, causing a bunch of havoc in front. He used his big body, and he played very, very well tonight.”
Like they did the day before, Niagara exploded for three goals in the second period, two from their leading goal-scorer Anthony Tropea and one from Nick Savoie. Streetsville’s Gabriel Mammoliti snuck one past Preds goalie Jordan Duquette, who was making his first start between the pipes for NIagara.
In the third, Flyers goals from Jordan Douglass and Jeremy Rottke made it a close game, but the Preds were able to shut them down for the remaining eight minutes to escape with the 5-4 win.
“Again, it shouldn’t have been so close,” Taylor said. “I think because of our youth, and our inexperience at this level, that our guys lose their focus very easily. These are long games, and the bus rides make it even longer. A lot of kids, especially coming out of COVID, have really short attention spans.”
In addition to Cole Ellis, his brother Riley was scratched for the game. And injuries to defenceman Dawson Walker and forward Will Krogman forced them to miss much of Sunday’s game.
After a weekend without a home game, the Preds will be back at Virgil’s Meridian Credit Union Arena against the undefeated Bradford Bulls. At 9-and-0, the Bulls are tied with North York atop the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League’s South Division. Unlike North York, though, Bradford has thus far played most of its nine games against teams in the bottom half of the standings.
“It will be interesting,” Taylor predicted. “It’s a lot easier to get up for a first place team than it is for a last place team. We’ll change up some things this week, work a little more on our systems and things like that, and see how it goes Friday.”
The 4-and-6 Predators, in fifth place in the nine-team South Division, will close out the month of October Sunday with a trip to Windsor to take on the 1-and-11 Aces at the Adie Knox Herman Arena.
Game time Friday is 7:30 p.m.