Losses to North York on Friday and Durham on Monday have dropped the Niagara Predators record to 3-and-5 on the season and stretched their Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League (GMHL) losing streak to four in a row.
Despite the streak, head coach Kevin Taylor doesn’t think it’s time to push the panic button. “I wanted to win badly last night,” Taylor told The Local Tuesday, “but Durham is a tough team. They know how to win.”
“You don’t win championships in October,” he continued. “We still have a few pieces missing, and our ownership is working hard to get us the right players. They won’t stop until we get what we want.”
The Roadrunners skated to a 4-1 victory at home against the visiting Predators. Forward Jaroslav Dohnal picked up the lone Niagara marker, his third of the season, assisted by Nolan Wyers and Nick Savoie, in the second period.
Taylor said the Roadrunners defence did a good job of pushing the Niagara attack outside throughout the game, limiting their chances of getting too many shots off against goaltender Zach Smirniw. The Predators were outshot Monday 48-22.
Predators goalie Ryan Santini was named second star of the game. “He was phenomenal,” Taylor said of Santini, who has repeatedly been named one of the three top players in almost every game he has played. “I think he is one of the best in the league.”
Taylor added that he saw a lot of upside to the Predators performance Monday. “There were guys discussing the game in the change room after,” explained Taylor. “That is very rare. They were pushing each other, which surprised me. That’s a good thing.”
Friday night’s match at home against the undefeated Renegades started out well enough for the Preds. The two teams traded shots back and forth through a scoreless first period, with North York coming out with a 10-9 shots-on-goal advantage.
The second period, however, saw the Renegades pinning the Predators in their own end, repeatedly putting pressure on goalie Cameron Huff, who got his first junior start between the pipes. Christopher Rende, Vadim Karpenko and Nikolai Salov all scored for North York during that frame, when the Renegades outshot Niagara 18-5.
North York’s Ryan Fritz added another marker early in the third, but Anthony Tropea and Reese Bisci responded quickly for the Preds, each netting a goal less than a minute after the Renegades scored their fourth. Later, with less than a minute left to play, Tropea added a power play goal, cutting the Predators deficit to just one.
With North York’s Gianlui Amato serving both a two minute unsportsmanlike conduct and a five minute boarding penalty, the Predators power play continued, and Santini skated off the ice to give Niagara the six-on- four advantage. But with seven seconds remaining, Rende picked up his second of the game, an empty-netter, to seal the 5-3 win for the Renegades.
“We have to play a full 60 minutes for us to be able to play,” Taylor said Friday night. “That’s a first place team, maybe the best in our division. Other than four minutes, we took those four minutes off, and that cost us the game.”
Of his young goalie, Taylor said Huff gave the team a good chance to win.
“He did a great job, Cameron,” Taylor raved. “He kept us in it. It gives me another option now. He’s a gamer. He came out and he played. I thought we were going to pull it out, and it would have been nice. But they’re all happy, they’re up and they’re positive. It’s a building block.”
Josh Gros, a 6’3” defenceman from Winnipeg, made his Predators debut in Friday night’s home game. “He gives us a lot of size,” said Taylor. ”I don’t think we’ve been physical enough on the back end. We have guys who are talented, but don’t play a physical game. He gives us another dynamic. He held his own out there. When wingers are coming down the ice, they’ll have to keep their heads up now.”
Taylor also welcomed more help behind the bench in the form of new assistant coach Greg Wilson, who played for the GMHL’s Bradford Bulls and with the Brampton Bombers of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL). He also coached with the GMHL’s Bancroft Rockhounds in 2019.
“He brings a lot of experience with him,” Taylor said of the Richmond Hill native. “He runs a skills school for high-end athletes in Toronto. I’m a bit old-school, I keep things simplified. I think he can add a bit of finesse, a little bit of jazz to our game.”
This weekend, Friday, Oct. 21, the Predators have a rare Friday night off, their usual home night at the Meridian Credit Union
Arena. They’ll hit the road Saturday and Sunday for games against the 3-and-5 Northumberland Stars and the 0-and-9 Streetsville Flyers. That should give the Preds a chance to turn things back around and perhaps end up at .500 by Sunday night.
“I don’t think we’re lacking confidence right now,” Taylor said. “These are two must-win, winnable games. Losing to Durham twice, and the Renegades once is understandable. And losing the first game of the season to St. George, too. It’s the loss against the Ravens (the previous Sunday) we should not have lost. That’s the one loss that doesn’t sit right with me.”
Predators fans can watch both games live on gmhl.tv.