With this past weekend’s win over Streetsville and loss to the North York Renegades, the Niagara Predators played their two most physical games of the season.
“I explained to them that in order to finish where they want to finish, they have to show the other team what they’re made of,” said team owner Robert Turnbull. “I’m not talking dirty hockey, I’m just saying you have to get to the puck and you have to be more physical, and that’s what they did.”
Turnbull was back behind the bench for both games while he and GM Johan Eriksson continued their search for a permanent replacement for Andrew Whalen, who resigned for family reasons Oct. 20. It was clear from the opening faceoff that Turnbull’s squad took his words to heart, playing with a certain fire and throwing their weight around at every opportunity.
Despite it ending in a 0-0 tie and failing to capitalize on two power plays, Eriksson said the first period was perhaps the best played this year by the Predators. Niagara outshot the Renegades 15-10 but continued to be thwarted by goaltender Nicholas Lewicky.
Santino Foti scored twice in the second to put North York up 2-0, his second goal coming on a power play. Later, Foti was taken out by the Predators’ Gino Carter Squire with a crushing hit that delayed the game for a few minutes and drew him a five-minute roughing penalty. The Renegades retaliated moments later when Frank Monachino levelled Carter Squire to return the favour.
Foti, who leads all Greater Metro Hockey League players with 19 goals this season, continued to be a thorn in the side of Niagara, scoring again less than three minutes into the third period. The Predators began to claw back, with goals by Jesper Eriksson and Alexander Insulander to narrow the margin to 3-2. But Foti struck for a fourth time with just under six minutes left. Nikolai Salov scored on the empty net in the final minute to put the game to bed.
“You have to give their goaltender credit,” Turnbull said. “They’re one of the top teams in the South (Division). They played well and they capitalized on our mistakes. We turned over the puck. We had some chances to shoot and we didn’t. I do think we can beat them.”
Turnbull was happy to have a handful of new players on the bench Friday night. Defencemen Pontus Madsen from Sweden and St. Davids resident Maxwell Bredin were added to the blue line corps, while forwards Noah Caperchione and Henri-Pierre Jayet also debuted. Back-up goaltender Justin Appleton was also on the bench.
Madsen and Jayet picked up their first points as Predators, Madsen assisting on both Niagara goals with Jayet adding a helper on Insulander’s. Bredin made his mark on the score sheet with a slashing penalty in the second period.
Bredin and his family moved to St. Davids from Niagara Falls about six years ago. The A.N. Myer graduate was clearly ecstatic to suit up for his local team after a stint with the Junior B Pelham Panthers.
“They’re a great group of guys,” he said, “I was really, really comfortable. I want to do good out here for the local fans and play for my hometown. The adjustment is made much easier because they have a lot of faith in me here.”
On Sunday the Predators continued their dominance of Streetsville with their third win this season against the Flyers. Reese Bisci scored twice while Jesper Eriksson, Dante Massi, and Mario Zitella added singles in a 5-2 victory.
Niagara outshot the Flyers 45-23, an almost two-to-one pace. And the physicality continued, with both Dante Massi and Gino Carter Squire sent to the box for fighting in the third period.
“It started with his (Faistom Ramrekersingh of the Renegades) stick in Dante’s face,” GM Eriksson said, “then he got his head in a headlock and wrestled him to the ground. Dante had had enough and wrestled him down and kept him down. Dante stayed cool and did the right thing.”
Describing Carter Squire as the team’s “energy guy,” Eriksson admitted some verbal back and forth throughout the game came to a head in his case.
“It built up, and after that he had a big hit on one of their players,” he said. “The shift after, they were looking for him and two guys came after him.”
Like Turnbull, Eriksson is happy to see the move to a more physical game overall. Both feel that the addition of more aggression on the ice to the team’s existing skill set will make Niagara better equipped to take on bigger, stronger teams such as North York and their rival St. George Ravens.
The weekend results leave Niagara at 7-and-3 and in third place in the South Division. The undefeated Durham Roadrunners hold down first place, while the Renegades are in second with a record of eight wins and one loss.
The Predators have a break in their schedule this week, with their next game coming Friday, Nov. 12. GM Eriksson says that should give them enough time to decide on their new coach and give him a chance to work extensively with the team before seeing any game action.
And that new coach will face a busy first weekend. The Predators host the Plattsville Lakers that Friday, then play a home-and-home against Northumberland, culminating in the team’s first Sunday afternoon contest.
On a final note, Eriksson says they have almost solved the issue they are facing getting their games live-streamed on the GMHL.tv website. In the meantime, they have been recording their last few home games with Michael Frena’s play-by-play and posting them after the fact.