Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte
At the end of a tough series that not only went the distance, but into extra time no less, the Napanee Raiders were ready to embrace the opportunity in front of them.
The Raiders prevailed 4-3 in overtime against the host Amherstview Jets in Game 7 of the Provincial Junior Hockey League Tod Division final Sunday night at the W.J. Henderson Recreation Centre.
“We were all excited, we were all talking about everyone wants to play Game 7 whether it’s for the Tod Division final or the Stanley Cup,” said Raiders forward Logan White. “It’s exciting just to get to play in a Game 7 and then for it to go to overtime…everyone was loose and excited to get out there. Everyone wanted to keep playing. We expected to probably have to go to Game 7 in this series and even overtime. It was light in the room, everyone knew what we had to do, everyone knows their roles on the team and we just talked about having to get out there and do your job and making sure we’re outworking them.”
White said there was no surprise to see teammate Noah Westwater score the game-winning goal 4:08 into overtime.
“He’s been awesome for us, especially in playoffs. He’s had quite the run,” White said. “He was saying in the room ‘someone’s got to be a hero’ and everyone was telling him he’s been a hero so far in playoffs so he might as well do it again and he goes out there and does it. That was awesome.”
A tough battle was expected between the Raiders and Jets, but White said there were a lot of unknowns as well entering the series based on regular season play.
“We took them in the first two games in the season and then we lost I think the next four and we only played them up until December and then we didn’t see them for the last two months of the season,” he remarked. “We didn’t know what to expect, but it was awesome.”
Just like in the seven-game series, leads were also traded during the deciding contest in front of an announced crowd of 723 spectators in Amherstview.
Napanee’s Ben Chubbs opened the scoring seven minutes into the game, but Amherstview took a 2-1 lead out of the first on a pair of goals from Zackery McMahon.
Two unanswered goals in the middle frame by Aidan Johnson and Soren Zamuner restored the lead for the Raiders. Caden Kekewich evened the score for the Jets less than four minutes into the third period and the game stayed tied until Westwater’s overtime winner.
Goaltender Bailey Maracle made 36 saves in the win for the Raiders.
Napanee head coach Ben Hagerman knew the tough task facing his players heading into the series against the Jets and their high-powered offence and great goaltending.
“We also knew if we kept the games close and got good goaltending ourselves from our wonderful goalie Bailey Maracle we’d give ourselves a chance,” Hagerman said. “It just seemed like the longer the series went on, the better spot we were in. Even though we lost game six, we still felt really good going into game seven with our depth and our team speed. Just a really hard-fought game seven by both teams and so many swings both ways and momentum shifts…just so fortunately to get that last one and end the series.”
Amherstview won the series opener was up two-games-to-one after three while Napanee had won games two, four and five with a chance to close out the series on home ice in Game 6 on Friday night, but the Jets forced the seventh-and-deciding contest with a 2-1 victory.
“It was too close of a series to get too excited when we got up by one game and you can’t be down when you get down by one because we knew we were a good team and we knew what we had to do,” White said. “Especially the young guys took it really well and figured out the playoffs in junior is different than playoffs in triple-A and it’s tough hockey, but we just had to stick with it and not get too up or too down.”
Napanee advances to the PJHL quarterfinals against the Clarington Eagles. It marks the first time this season the Raiders will face an opponent outside of their division, but White said that’s welcome news to the club.
“It’s definitely going to be different playing them, but I think a lot of the guys are excited,” White said. “We played 30 games this season against the same five teams (before playoffs) and the guys are excited to see a new team. We definitely just have to play our game. Our division has always been a really good division and we just have to go play our game regardless of how they play.”
This will be the final traditional playoff series of the season for the Raiders, regardless of the outcome against Clarington.
The four conference winners will advance to the PJHL’s Schmalz Cup tournament at the University of Guelph from May 7 to 15. Round-robin games will seed the teams for the semifinals for a chance to compete in the final for the Schmalz Cup championship.
“We’ve only been able to watch (the Eagles) a little bit on some streaming from their last round, but they look like a really solid deep team with an excellent goalie and some really good overage players that seem to lead the way,” Hagerman said.
“We’re anticipating another really difficult challenge. I kind of know Dean Baumhauer a bit, I know he’s an unbelievable coach, he’s got a great staff so they’re going to be prepared so we’ve got to be ready to go here.”
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, hosted by the Eagles, is scheduled for Thursday at 7:20 p.m. at the Garnet B. Rickard Recreation. Game 2 will be played Friday night, 7:30 p.m., at the Strathcona Paper Centre in Napanee.
The rest of the series schedule is still to be determined.