Pirates, Raiders ready to rekindle playoff rivalry

Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte

The Napanee Raiders and Picton Pirates are ready to renew playoff acquaintances.

In March 2020, the two local junior C clubs were battling for the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Tod Division title when the playoffs were postponed due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic and were eventually cancelled.

Napanee, which was the defending Schmalz Cup provincial champion, held a 2-0 series lead against Picton, but the first two games were close with scores of 2-1 and 3-1.

“It was really tough,” said Napanee’s Logan White. “We actually found out between the second and third periods of that game (two). We were hoping it was only going to be for a few weeks and then we just kept getting told it was getting pushed back a lit farther and then it never happened.”

Picton had been swept by the Raiders in the playoffs the previous season in 2019 and were looking for redemption.

That hasn’t changed.

“For a lot of the guys, myself included, this is a situation we’ve been in before and we’ve never really gotten by them,” said Pirates’ overager Landon McLellan. “With the COVID shutdown, technically they’re still the reigning or defending champions so it’s an exciting moment for all of us. It’s something we’ve been waiting to have a chance at again.”

Landon McLellan in action for the Picton Pirates. (Photo courtesy of the Pirates)

Game 1 of the best-of-seven Tod Division semifinal series is tonight at 7:30 in Napanee. The Pirates will host Game 2 on Thursday night at 7:30 in Picton. The Amherstview Jets and Port Hope Panthers are squaring off in the other divisional semifinal.

McLellan and the Pirates already have a playoff series victory under their belts this year after defeating the expansion Frankford Huskies in five games. All six Tod Division teams advanced to the postseason this season, with the top two teams earning first-round byes.

Frankford, which only won one game during its inaugural regular season, upset the Pirates in the opening playoff contest. Picton rebounded with four straight victories to win the series.

“They came in and played a lot better than they had in the regular season. Obviously in playoffs everybody picks it up, but they played at a level higher than we had seen them play at all year and we knew after game one that we were going to have to pick it up if we wanted to win,” McLellan said.

“For all of us I think it was kind of a humbling experience as well as a learning experience.”

Napanee had a strong regular season, placing second to earn a bye. While the rest and extra practice time was beneficial, the Raiders are done waiting for a return to the postseason.

“We’ve been waiting two years to start playoffs now after they got cancelled two years ago. It’s basically a different group now, but we’re all excited to get back into it,” White said. “We’ve been practising lots and it’s given us lots of time to practice and work on our special teams and stuff like that. We’re definitely itching to play a game here.”

White, a former Quinte Red Devil, began his junior career with the Pirates before eventually joining his hometown Raiders. He’s played in his fair share of Napanee-Picton games.

“They’ve always been great games. Picton always plays really well in their home barn, especially playoff games,” White remarked. “We’ve had a good rivalry and we didn’t get to finish off that last series.”

While the majority of the Raiders roster was rebuilt since the 2020 playoffs, you wouldn’t know it from the camaraderie of the players.

“We’re real close, everybody is close,” White said. “We’re just really excited to really get going. We had a really good start to the year and we’ve had some off times, we’ve battled through a ton of injuries. We haven’t had a full lineup I don’t think since our second game of the season. It’s been tough with guys commuting and injuries so we’re almost at a full lineup, still missing a few guys, but we’re excited.”

McLellan knows the Raiders will be a formidable opponent in the upcoming playoff series for the Pirates, but said their coaching staff has done a great job preparing a game plan as the players also watch video and practice structure to match Napanee’s game style of play.

A strong mix of youth and experience has proved to be valuable for the Pirates this season.

“Our older guys, we’ve all been there for quite some time. We’re all familiar with each other,” McLellan said.

“It’s a really tight-knit group and a lot of the younger guys – we’ve battled through injuries and stuff all year – so it’s been kind of next-man up and the younger guys have done a great job of stepping in, gaining the trust of the coaching staff, gaining the trust of the older teammates and everyone is just buying into their role right now. It doesn’t matter how many minutes you’re playing…just playing their role, doing something to help the team win.”


Tuesday, March 22

Picton at Napanee, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 24

Napanee at Picton, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, March 26

Picton at Napanee, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, March 27

Napanee at Picton, 7:30 p.m. 

Tuesday. March 29

*Picton at Napanee, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 31 

*Napanee at Picton, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, April 1

*Picton at Napanee, 7:30 

* – if necessary