Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte
After defeating the Picton Pirates in five games, the Napanee Raiders have advanced to the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Tod Division final.
Napanee had a first-round bye while the Pirates faced the Frankford Huskies and had promptly catch up to game speed in the best-of-best semifinal matchup.
“It was different going in with no games under our belt,” said Raiders defenceman Rheydan McCoy of Belleville. “We just had two weeks worth of practices so it definitely was a challenge getting the wheels back, but once we got that first game done I’m sure the boys had the confidence for the rest of the series.”
McCoy said there were some nerves for some of the Raiders players entering their first junior C playoffs, but they were calmed especially thanks to the stellar play of goaltender Bailey Maracle, who posted a 1.76 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
“Bailey stood on his head the entire series,” McCoy said, adding “the team really sacrificed with blocking shots and doing the little things we needed to get the win.”
Napanee jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with victories of 4-1 and 2-0. Picton got in the win column in Game 3 with a 4-2 victory, but the Raiders rebounded with a 4-2 decision of their own on Sunday and clinched the series victory with a 3-2 overtime win Tuesday night.
The Raiders had to fend off an inspired Pirates club looking to avenge past playoff defeats during matchups between the clubs.
“You could definitely see that they wanted it as bad as they did,” McCoy said. “They were making shots from the point almost impossible to get through. They were coming out heavy hitting, skating fast, really just put the pressure on us to play the best hockey we’ve had to play all year. Overall I think they played their hardest, definitely put the message across that they weren’t going to be beaten easily and that definitely was the case.”
Next for the Raiders is the best-of-seven Tod Division final against the Amherstview Jets, which swept the Port Hope Panthers in four games in the other semifinal.
Amherstview finished atop the division with a 24-4-1-1 record while the Raiders were second at 22-4-0-4). The Jets won four of six meetings between the two clubs after Napanee had won the first two early in the season. The teams haven’t faced each other since early December.
“When we played the Jets at the start of the year, we came out on top in two of the games. We were just playing real fast and playing our game and then they started to really get their forecheck down,” McCoy said. “I think in this series it’s just going to come down to which team is flying more often than not, which team is able to really get those power-play goals, kill those penalties. I think it will just be a hard series overall.”
Watch for the schedule to be posted when it’s announced and check out the sports ticker for results during the series.