Zach Mambella made a name for himself on the scoresheet in his Junior B hockey debut with two goals and an assist as the Niagara Falls Canucks beat visitors Thorold Blackhawks 8-5 on Friday night.
It also became the answer to a trivial question: who opened the scoring for the Canucks in their 50th season. Mambella beat goalkeeper Nico Balice 4:14 in the game, giving her side a lead they would never give up.
The 18-year-old St. Catharines native was quick to share the credit for the three-point first impression with his new teammates.
“It’s great, but I couldn’t have done it without the boys,” Mambella said. “Everything clicked tonight.
“It felt good. The puck was coming towards me.
It was the left forward’s first meaningful game since his major midget year with the Niagara North Stars trebles A during the 2019-20 season. He suggested that the joy of playing for points in the standings was long overdue.
“COVID has hit everyone hard,” he said. “It’s great to be back here.”
Kyle Cupolo, Tanner McEachern and Matthew Riva also scored in the first period to give the Canucks a 4-0 lead.
Niagara Falls appeared to be heading for a rout in the 2021-22 season opener for both teams, but the Blackhawks should not have received the memo. After Nathaniel Krbavac and Dylan Coers scored to cut the deficit in half, the teams started trading goals after that.
McEachern, with his second of the night Sam Ostafin and Harrison Farrugia shorthanded in an empty net, added goals for Niagara Falls. Nathan Kelly, Liam Loftus, and Cooper Lobsinger responded for Thorold.
“Even at 4-0 we probably should have had four as well,” said Blackhawks owner head coach Scott Barnes. “It’s just theirs got in, and ours didn’t.
“We are a team that will be able to score a lot of goals. “
Despite the loss, Barnes was happy to compete for points for the first time in 569 days.
“I know because we have been looking for him,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s been a long time, so long ago that you start not even knowing if it will come back.”
“Today was probably the most relieved I have had in a long time, in terms of stress. “
Niagara Falls outscored Thorold 40-34 in front of an expected crowd of 350 at the Gale Center.
It was the first meaningful game for the Canucks since Friday, March 6, 2020, when they beat the Fort Erie Meteors 3-2 in overtime to win a best of seven rounds four to one playoff series. Thorold’s last game came two days earlier when a 4-0 home loss to the Hamilton Kilty swept them out of the playoffs.
In addition to canceling the last three rounds of the 2019-20 playoffs, COVID-19 has also erased the entire 2020-21 schedule.
Niagara Falls went 1-0 on the ice and 2-0 in the standings. The Canucks got two points and one credit for a win after the Caledonia Corvairs lost Saturday night’s home game to Niagara Falls.
Caledonia also lost a Friday night game to the St. Catharines Falcons for not having all of his players vaccinated before the start of the season.
Thorold hosts the Falcons on Monday night, while Niagara Falls is inactive until next Friday, when it will once again host the Blackhawks.
Kilty B’s 4, Panthers 0
At Fonthill, Justin Monteith scored two goals, including one on the power play, and Hamilton shut out Pelham to open the regular season of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League in front of an announced crowd of 260 at the Meridian Community Center.
Liam Galton and Nolan Underwood also scored for the Kilty B’s. Gage Stewart got the shutout.
Pelham visits the Welland Jr. Canadiens on Sunday night.