Scoring goals and keeping them out has been a problem for the Penticton Lakers.
Goals against haven’t been a problem because of their goaltending. Lakers coach Robert Dirk has been very happy with the play of Niall McGregor early in their Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season.
“In three games he has been exceptional,” said Dirk. “He has probably been our best player. The record doesn’t show it.”
The fact that McGregor has been their best player to Dirk is a good thing.
“If you’re going to have your best player as your goaltender, that’s a pretty good position to have it in,” he added.
McGregor, a Calgary, native started the season turning aside 28 of 31 shots in a loss to the division leading Osoyoos Coyotes. The next game, he made 44 saves against the Princeton Posse to give the Lakers their first win. In his last two starts, he has given up eight goals on 92 shots. His save percentage has yet to dip below .900.
McGregor, who played for Dirk on the midget prep team, is getting more of a chance to play after bouncing around a bit last season with the Kamloops Storm and the Milton Ice Hawks in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
“I feel like I’m playing pretty good so far. Enjoying trying to keep the team in the game,” said McGregor. “Having a chance to win.”
McGregor said the Lakers have a pretty good team.
“I think once everyone gets on the same page we will be pretty hard to beat,” he said.
As the Lakers prepare to hit the road and face the Summerland Steam and North Okanagan Knights, Dirk aims to correct their problems.
“Defensively, we’ve got to get a lot better,” said Dirk. “We didn’t play that well defensively this past weekend.”
In a 6-1 loss to the Sicamous Eagles, the home team built a 4-0 lead before the Lakers finally got on the board. Four of the six goals were scored in the third period. During a 4-0 loss on Sept. 29, the Lakers were outshot 50-14.
“We have to create some more offence,” he said. “Everybody thinks it’s just about scoring goals but, if you’re better defensively, you are going to create turnovers and create odd man rushes going the other way”
The good news for Dirk is he no longer has any players under suspension. Michael Sandor, who played for the Lakers in 2010-11, returned after starting the season with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and collecting one assist in four games. He played 56 games with the Victoria Grizzlies last season scoring six goals and adding seven assists. Sandor scored on the weekend for the Lakers, but Dirk said he intends to try and catch on with a North America Hockey League team in the United States.
“If he can play at a higher level, good for him,” said Dirk.
The Lakers have another player who Dirk wouldn’t name that is on a tryout.
“We still have room to make moves and improve our hockey club, and if we can we will,” he said.
In facing the Steam (3-3-0-1), Dirk wants to see his players winning races, battles and outcompeting their opponent. Dirk isn’t surprised by the Steam’s start.
“They have definitely upgraded their roster compared to last year,” said Dirk. “John DePourcq is a pretty knowledgable hockey guy. Pretty good coach. They are not doing anything I didn’t expect them to do. Arguably it’s going to be our No. 1 rivals. Hopefully it will be an entertaining game for fans and we get the win.”
The Steam feature a few former Lakers in Jordan Boultbee, Dylan Burton and Derek Grimm, who was their captain.