The Niagara Predators are still searching for the magic formula to beat the top three teams in the Greater Metro Hockey League’s Southern Division. After Friday night’s 6-3 loss to Durham, they are a combined 0-10-1 against the Roadrunners, the Bradford Bulls and the first-place North York Renegades.
The latest loss to the Roadrunners might have head coach Kevin Taylor feeling a little Looney Tunes. Taylor’s refrain after the game was a familiar one, heard often this year after failing to reach the Acme against the cream of the GMHL crop.
“We’re not good enough to make mistakes against a team like that,” Taylor said. “If you want to compete against the top teams you have to be almost perfect. It comes down to whatever team makes the fewest mistakes. We made some costly ones, high slot mistakes, that they were going to capitalize on.”
Those errors leading to goals tilted a close game in visiting Durham’s favour. After losing to the Roadrunners 4-1 and 6-1 back in October, Taylor wanted to make a statement this weekend in Virgil. His team, including a number of new players acquired at the deadline, fell just short of proving his point.
The Roadrunners opened the scoring 3:45 into the game when a pass in the Preds’ defensive zone was cut off at the blueline. Durham’s Trevor Urquhart took the puck behind the Niagara goal, skated out and passed to Mikael Simon-Serroul, who was unguarded in front of the crease.
Simon-Serroul slipped the puck past an outstretched Niagara goaltender Ryan Santini, who was slow to get up from the ice. When he did, he skated toward the bench, signalled to the coaching staff, then turned and immediately skated toward the dressing room. Taylor sent backup goalie Cameron Huff out to play the rest of the game.
“I’m hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst,” Taylor said of his top goaltender, who missed four weeks earlier in the season with a shoulder injury suffered during a practice. “He has an appointment to go back to Montreal to see his doctor. We’ll find out more then.”
Huff did his part the rest of the way to keep the Preds in the game, blocking 26 of the Roadrunners 30 shots on him. The final Durham goal came on an empty Niagara net.
Urquhart put Durham up 2-0 at 11:05, but defenceman Nick Savoie scored a power play goal for the Predators with just 52 seconds left in the first period, taking the wind out of Durham’s sails just before the horn blew.
A missed check along the boards in the Niagara end on a Durham drive early in the second resulted in a goal by the Roadrunners Parker Burns. Burns and Urquhart assisted on Simon-Serroul’s second of the game about eight minutes later to put Durham ahead 4-1.
But 28 seconds later the Predators closed the gap again. Cole Ellis led the charge into the Durham zone, with a move around a defender followed by a backhanded shot that goaltender Cameron Carvalho kicked away. Nick Savoie intercepted Durham’s attempt to clear the puck out of the zone and unleashed a blistering slapshot from the point. Carvalho stopped that one, but Leo Savin was unchecked at the goalie’s left pad side and he was able to deposit the rebound into the Roadrunners net.
A highlight of the game came in the last two minutes of the second period when Preds forward Declan Fogarty was called for slashing with 2:05 remaining. Niagara mounted probably their best penalty kill of the season, keeping Durham from getting a single good chance on Huff.
But the Roadrunners capitalized on another turnover in front of Huff to score yet another early period goal in the third. Alex Andrews responded with a power play goal at 5:37, assisted by Nolan Wyers and defenceman Ethan Boyd, the former Roadrunner playing in his first game since making the move to Niagara at Monday’s league trade deadline.
“He’s a quiet guy,” Taylor said of Boyd, when asked if he imparted any inside information to the coaching staff about Friday’s opponent. “He’s still getting over the shock of getting traded. He played well tonight, he handled himself really well. I’m sure that gave (Durham) some second thoughts (about trading him).”
Interestingly, after the goal by Andrews Durham coach Derrick Smith replaced Carvalho with Zach Smirniw, who played the rest of the game in the Roadrunners net. Urquhart picked up his second goal of the game for Durham on the empty net to cement the 6-3 victory.
Other newcomers in Friday’s Predator lineup included Russian forward Timur Mirziants and goaltender Zane Clausen, both also acquired Monday.
“It was tough to lose our captain,” Taylor said of trading St. Davids resident Max Bredin to the second place Bradford Bulls. “It was a difference in philosophy between what he wanted and what I expected. He requested a trade and he went to where he wanted to go. It’s hard to replace a talent like that.”
Having said that, Taylor added that Boyd is filling Bredin’s spot on the blueline. He expects him to play a stay-at-home role, and looks forward to his size, 6’1” and 209 pounds, to play a big role in Niagara’s physical side of the game.
Other than the few mistakes that resulted in goals, Taylor was pleased with his team’s performance Friday.
“I think they (Durham) expected to walk over us,” said Taylor. “They’re still a team we want to compete with, and I think tonight we competed. We just didn’t get the outcome we wanted.”
They’ll have one more chance to get that outcome when they visit the Roadrunners on Feb. 13.
Meanwhile, at press time, the Predators were still tied with St. George and Tottenham for fourth place, now 23 points behind third place Durham.
Taylor says Huff will most likely get the start in goal next Friday, Jan. 27 at home against Tottenham. And the 6’4” Clausen, who came over in a trade with the Northern Division’s Bradford Rattlers, will most likely start against the Aces in Windsor next Saturday evening.