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Preds sweep Plattsville in first round of playoffs

Dante Massi faces a number of Lakers.
 Dante Massi faces a number of Lakers. (Photos by Mike Balsom)

It’s on to the semi-finals for the Niagara Predators after sweeping the Plattsville Lakers to take the best-of-three first round series 2-0 in the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League’s Russell Cup playoffs. 

Niagara hosted the first game of the series on Wednesday, March 9 at Port Colborne’s Vale Health and Wellness Centre. With NOTL Wolves Minor Hockey Club hosting their annual March Break Tournament, there was a dire lack of available ice time at Virgil’s Meridian Credit Union Arena.

The change in home venue didn’t hurt their cause as the Predators skated to a 2-1 victory in a fast-paced game that saw only a single penalty called in 60 minutes. 

Niagara controlled the play from the outset, peppering Lakers goalie Rahul Bola with 50 shots, including 22 in the second period alone. After a number of chances, defenceman Nathan Fehr set up Reese Bisci with a perfect pass. Bisci skated into the faceoff circle in the Plattsville end and tripped, pushing the puck to Georgy Kholmovsky who slid it past Bola about 15 minutes into the game. 

Plattsville’s Kyle Struth tied it up early in the second when a weak clearing effort by the Predators resulted in a turnover in front of the net. The tie lasted only five minutes when Dante Massi set up his younger brother Alessandro for what turned out to be the winning goal with eleven seconds left in the second. 

The third period saw Plattsville turn the tables on Niagara in the shots on goal category, challenging Predators goalie Morgan Penwell with 14 attempts, but the big goaltender held on for the victory.

Head coach, general manager and team owner Robert Turnbull commended his squad on a full team effort. 

“Everybody worked their butts off,” Turnbull told The Local. “The third period especially they got to the puck first and they got to their man first. Not so much in the second, when we gave them great opportunities. Morgan was absolutely outstanding. Reese won 80 per cent of his faceoffs, and Dante went into the corners on every shift. And Dawson (Walker) and Logan (Baillie) shut them down on defence.”

Despite the lack of penalties, Wednesday’s match was a physical game. Fehr in particular threw some hard checks, knocking both Chaseton Sieling and Lucas Bright to the ice on two of his hardest hits. 

The physicality continued Friday night in game two at the Plattsville Arena. As well, the return of forward Noah Caperchione seemed to spark the Predators toward their 4-2 victory, clinching the series. 

Caperchione, who scored 22 goals in 21 games in the regular season, missed some time after being involved in a car collision earlier this month. 

“I got a call from him saying the doctor had just cleared him to play,” Turnbull said. “I wasn’t sure how well he was going to play, so I had moved him to a different line initially. We got some chances in the first, but then Alessandro suggested he switch lines with him. We moved him back with Dante and Reese.” 

After Dante Massi opened the scoring in the second, the line juggling paid off, as Caperchione scored the first of Niagara’s three goals just under seven minutes into the third period. Struth cut the lead to 2-1 just 22 seconds later, but a mere 20 seconds after that Pontus Madsen scored the eventual game winner, an unassisted goal that put the Preds back up by two. 

The physical nature of the game came to a head in that period, with a total of nine penalties dished out, five to the Predators. Bright scored on the power play for the Lakers at 10:33, but Caperchione iced the game with his second of the night, an unassisted power play marker into the upper corner behind Bola with a minute and a half remaining.

Heading into the best-of-five semi-final series, the Predators are well-matched against the North York Renegades. The teams met three times in the regular season, with the second place Renegades winning the season series 2-1. Home teams won each game during the season.  

Niagara will have to keep Santino Foti off the scoreboard. The forward was third in the GMHL in both goals, with 53, and points, with 109. As well, goaltender Nicholas Lewicky has confounded the Predators somewhat this year. 

“Penwell will start in net,” Turnbull said about his own goaltender, whom he acquired from his other team, the St. George Ravens. “I knew how good he was, but I wasn’t sure how good he would actually be, not having played at all this year. But he practised hard and quickly got back into game shape. He played very, very well in both (Lakers) games. We’ll have to be at the top of our game to win.”

Of the Renegades, Turnbull says, “they’ve been a very, very good team. We’ve had two great games against them. This series will be very interesting. We have to get to the puck first and take the man to have a chance. I’m looking for competitive games against them.”

After having to move the home games against Plattsville to Port Colborne, Turnbull is happy the minor hockey club was able to carve out home games for the Predators this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., if a fourth game is needed. Adult tickets are $10 for those games. 

The Predators open the series in North York Tuesday at 8 p.m. (results were not available at press time) and follow that with a 5 p.m. start time in that same arena Wednesday. If necessary, game five will also be in North York. Those road games will be streamed live at 

 Defenseman Pontus Madsen is chased by Lakers.