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By Puck Chaser

PJHL TOD Division  Season Preview

Although Junior Hockey is on hold currently, local Junior C teams are gearing up to be ready when the season begins officially.  Total Sports Quinte podcast held a round table recently with Picton Pirates Head Coach Ty Green and Napanee Raiders Head coach Ben Hagerman. Although both teams are playing the waiting game both are optimistic for a return to play at some point this season.  Green said” We are practicing once a week currently and having discussions with local authorities to look towards bubbling up with another team in order to allow for exhibition games to start.” This seems to be the standard plan across most of hockey in Ontario currently. Find a couple of teams to work together to get some games in and prove out the model so that the season could potentially start in December or January.  Hagerman said ”most likely it will be without fans, which isn’t the best scenario for our franchises but at least it’s a chance to get back to playing hockey.“  

Napanee and Picton are part of the Tod Division which is the eastern most division in the Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL) The Tod Division includes the aforementioned Pirates and Raiders as well as the Amherstview Jets, Gananoque G Men, Port Hope Panthers and Campbellford Rebels. They play an interlocking schedule with teams in the Orr Division, which includes North Kawartha, Clarington, Lakefield, Little Britain, Uxbridge, Port Perry and Georgina.  At the heart of it is small town hockey at its best with local rivalries and teams with deep roots to each of the communities. “ We have had the same management and many of the same season ticket holders for over 35 years,” Hagerman says. ”Our local kids grow up wanting to play for the Raiders because of the strong tradition within the community.”  

With so many of the new rinks becoming standardized with NHL dimensions, the PJHL adds a unique element by still having some of the smaller rinks in these smaller communities. Haggerman says, “Campbellford and Lakefield can be difficult places to play when skill meets size in these smaller barns. The intensity level definitively ramps up.“ Like most of hockey, fighting has been almost removed from the game in the PJHL as the speed and skill level has ramped up. Saying that fans do get to see a “more physical” brand of hockey in the PJHL. “ It’s the one thing that has stayed true in the league is the extra level of aggression compared to other junior leagues in the province. Maybe it’s the rivalries or the hometown crowds, but the games always have some very physical play typically.”  

That small support is crucial to the survival of the league and all of the teams in the Junior C loop rely heavily on the support of the community via advertising and ticket sales. The prospect of playing without fans creates some uncertainty for these franchises, as they may have to consider more of a pay-to-play model going forward for the players, which creates some issues in creating a competitive roster.“  The league is unique in that you have 16 and 17 year old kids that are working their way up the ladder and then you have 20 and 21 year old men that have played junior hockey for a while now and are looking for opportunities to play for fun or win a championship while they pursue college, university or apprenticeships. “Asking a young man who is trying to buy his first car to pay $2500 to play hockey may not be realistic and we will lose out on some of those older guys who just can’t justify playing if it will cost money,” said Hagerman. Despite the uncertainty both of these franchises are excited about the upcoming season and their respective rosters.   

Picton Pirates 

After a very successful run the last couple of years utilizing a younger squad, the Prince Edward County outfit is rewarded with a veteran laden roster poised to take a run at not only the league title, but possibly its first provincial Schmalz Cup victory since 2013.  

The returning veterans are led by Captain Griffin Conger as well as former Wellington Duke Landon MclLellan  and Nate Boomhower who will  be relied upon to supply the lion’s share of the scoring for  the Pirates.  After losing leading scorer Khaden Henry to the Jr A. ranks with the Trenton Golden Hawks, Pirates management reached out to find some local players that may come available after playing elsewhere. Noah Brant, the talented player from Tyendinaga and former Quinte Red Devil, was playing in the NOJHL Junior A loop last year after a couple of years playing with the Picton squad. “Getting Noah back is a crucial pick up for us.”  Coach Ty Green says,  “Brant adds skill and experienced depth to a very solid lineup.  He will be a key piece to the puzzle for us.” 

On defence the Pirates lost smooth puck moving defender Jacob Deitz as he moved on to pursue an NCAA scholarship by moving up the junior hockey ladder to the Wellington Dukes of the OJHL Jr A. loop.  Filling that void will be Derrick Vos who returns after a stint with the Dukes as well. Vos is a solid playmaker and plays a tough defensive game. Along with veterans Nick Kyle, Kurtis Wood along with Cooper Rogers, the Pirates may boast the best blue line in the league. “We think Cooper Rogers will have a breakout season for us this year.” Green says.“ With such a strong D corps and the return of Eric Tessier between the pipes, the Pirates are set on the backend.  

Newcomers include Logan James from the Quinte Red Devils midget program, former AP Ian Harrison and 16-year-old Nate Woods.  “ Woods just finished an impressive season with the QRD Minor midgets that had a very solid season and Harrison should add a little grit to the squad with his tenacious play” Green went on to say.  

Total Sports Prediction:  Definitely the early favourite to win the division. Definitely has the potential for a long playoff run if key players stay healthy and stay out of the penalty box. 

Napanee Raiders 

Coach Ben Hagerman is undergoing a bit of a rebuild in Napanee after back to back to back epic seasons. With last year’s team poised to win another Schmalz Cup before the shutdown, the team has sadly had to see some key players age out and move on past junior hockey. Key Departures include fan favourites Evan Foley, Brodie Maracle, Justynn Steven and Austin Labelle. Like so many teams at the junior C level, the Raiders are always proud to see players develop and move up the ranks. This year it’s Marshall McFarland moving up the ranks to the Wellington Dukes Jr A. Club a Napanee hometown kid who shows up to play every night with a tremendous work ethic will be missed but the Dukes are getting a good one.  

Hagerman expects his young team to be very competitive as they build towards another title contender. The Raiders will rely heavily on their veterans to provide key scoring. 

“There is no secret that we have been an older team the last number of years with the expectation to win every single game and go on long playoff runs. We have lost a lot of older players that provided the tools and experience on and off the ice.”  

“This off-season we have had to retool the forward and defence groups but luckily both goalies are returning.”  

Key Returnees include – former QRD and Kingston Frontenac draft pick Logan White (01 F). The rangy White has the ability to break games open with his offensive abilities.  Along with rugged forward Bailey Matthews (01F) and veterans Devon King (99 F), and Soren Zamuner (01F) the Raiders have enough offence to keep them in any game this year. Led on the back end by veterans Matthew Panetta and Curtis Marrison (99 D)  the Raider blue line will be solid. Noah Westwater (01 D) and Alex Case (03 D) return to bolster a young but compelling squad.  Bailey Maracle (01 G) and Mitch Brown (00 G) return as potentially one of the best goalie tandems in the league. Each goalie played over 20 games last season before the shutdown.  Maracle sported a very healthy 2.12 GAA and a .926 Save % while Brown locked up a 1.99 GAA with a Save % of .919. They will be tested heavily with the rest of the line up being new and quite young in comparison to previous Raiders clubs.  

Key Additions include – Cameron Krupa (02 F), London Nationals, Maverick Labrie (02 F), Embrum Panthers, Matt Sheeny (02 F), Upper Canada College, Chris Edwards (02 F) St. Michael’s College (02 F), Christian Williamson (02 D), St. Michael’s College, Brendan Hagerman (00 F).  

Total Sports Prediction: Napanee will be a fast team that will find their way as the season unfolds and should remain competitive every night. The most positive thing about their “reload” is the core of 01 and 02 players that will keep them contending the division for years to come. Although this is not the highflying Raiders of the past, this is a very good lineup with good depth and character. Goal scoring will need to be by committee. Logan White has the potential to have a breakout season offensively. Strong coaching a defence first mentality may make the Strathcona Center an unwelcome place for visiting teams this year.  

TS predicts a second place finish but very close behind Picton. If the team comes together they could play spoiler in the playoffs.  

PJHL League Overview and Predictions: With Covid 19 cases lower in Eastern Ontario then most regions the league is hopeful that a start to the season is possible. It is conceivable that the teams may be limited to playing in their own divisions.  For this reason Total Sports will focus on the Tod Division only.  

Favourites: Picton Pirates – Depth, scoring and goaltending make them the early favourites. They have the tools to have a long playoff run if the players buy into Coach Green’s game plan.  Staying focused and not taking penalties will be the biggest challenge with this squad, as the talent will take them a long way if they keep it together.  

Challengers – Napanee, Amherstview and Port Hope will all be contenders and can challenge on any given night.  Amherstview has a solid returning group, which surprised a number of teams last season.  Coach Evan Robinson always has a line on an import player or two that bolsters their lineup year to year.  Port Hope is always competitive however with some personnel changes they may take a year to retool. Expect them to be competitive every night. 

Competitive but on the outside looking in – New management in Campbellford bodes well for the organization to get back to the glory days but it won’t happen overnight.  Expect both Gananoque and Campbellford to be better than last year and definitely competitive but not ready for primetime just yet. 

Total Sports expects the Tod Division to be very competitive with more parity then seen in seasons past. Total Sports projected season standing:

1. Picton

2. Napanee

3. Amherstview

4. Port Hope

5. Campbellford

6. Gananoque