By: Bill Potrecz (BPSN)
Hunter Zoccoli decisively set the tone for the Fort Erie Meteors Wednesday night.
The 18-year-old St. Catharines native scored on a breakaway in the first period and then added an assist later as the Meteors topped the Welland Junior Canadians 6-2 in the opener of their Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, Golden Horseshoe Conference best-of-seven quarter-final playoff series.
“It was awesome getting the boys fired up early with a big goal to start the series,” Zoccoli said outside a noisy Fort Erie dressing room. “Welland’s a great team but I loved the way we played. We just have to keep pushing for the next three games here.”
The Junior Canadians answered back early in the second with a power-play goal to tie the game but the Meteors quickly responded with a five-goal outburst in just under 11 minutes.
“We had three or four goals in a couple of minutes there,” Zoccoli said. “It was the home-rink advantage. This building has been waiting for this for a long time. It’s been a while since Fort Erie has had a win in a series.
“It was great to get those goals. It will be a totally different story in their (smaller) rink but hopefully we can keep it going the same way.”
The Junior Canadians play a rough and tumble style but had trouble sustaining any consistent physical pressure on Fort Erie’s Olympic-size ice surface.
“We just have to stay focused,” Zoccoli said. “That’s how they stay in the games by getting you off your game and pissing you off a little bit. I know we’re the better team and that we’ll take care of business.”
Fort Erie coach/general manager Nik Passero was naturally pleased to get off to a quick start.
“I’m happy with our effort,” he said. “Not a lot of guys in there know what playoff hockey is about. I think they’re starting to learn and it’s going to take a little bit. A great crowd tonight and it was nice to put a win on the board and go to work tomorrow night.”
Passero said the Meteors didn’t need any extra motivation to get them fired up now that it’s the post-season.
“I don’t think that’s something you need to talk about,” he said. “If you need to be told that, you’re in the wrong business. It’s more about putting the work in. People asked if we were nervous today. No, we weren’t. We’re nervous for the result, but we did what we had to do.”
Passero would like to see the Mets take better care of the puck as the series heads into Game 2.
“I think if our puck management is better we’ll be able to handle the pressure in their barn.”
Metsellaneous: Dylan Abbamont scored twice as the Hamilton Kilty B’s topped the Niagara Falls Canucks 5-2 in their opener . . . Ethan Doyle scored twice in the last 33 seconds of the game to give the Caledonia Corvairs a 4-2 win over the visiting Thorold Blackhawks in the opener of their series . . . The St. Catharines Falcons visit the Pelham Panthers Thursday in Game 1 of their series while the Corvairs take on the Blackhawks at the Vale Centre in Port Colborne in Game 2.
Meteros 6 Junior Canadians 2
Fort Erie forward Hunter Zoccoli with a goal and an assist.
Fort Erie Meteors: Zoccoli, Michael Angrilli, Jayden Baldinelli, Brendan Krawczyk, Joshua DiFransesco, Rylan Masterson.
Welland Junior Canadians: Patrick Cole, Grant Morton.
Game stats: Shots on goal: By Fort Erie on Nico Balice (18)/Keegan Jackson (8), by Welland on Duncan Nichols-Delay (32); Power plays: Fort Erie 0/2, Welland 1/5; Penalty minutes: Fort Erie 24, Welland 18.
Up next: Game 2 Thursday in Welland at 7:30 p.m.
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