For the 10th time in their 30 year history, the Napanee Raiders are league champions.
They clinched the Tod Division championship Sunday night with a 4-2 victory in Picton, giving them a four game series sweep.
Picton’s Matt Poole opened the Game 4 scoring just 4:11 into the game, giving his Pirates their first lead of the series. It didn’t last long however as Napanee’s Jacob Gilbert scored at 9:11, followed by Liam Mroueh at 9:51 to put the visitors in front 2-1.
Picton’s Landon McLellan knotted the game at 2-2 with a power-play goal at 7:52 in the third, only to see Napanee’s Bailey Matthews retake the lead just over seven minutes later.
Napanee closed out the series with a strong defensive third period, keeping the Pirates off the board while Mroueh sealed the deal with a short-handed empty-net goal in the final seconds. Raider goalie Nicholas Nabuurs earned all four wins in the series, finishing with a sparkling 1.25 GAA, including a Game 2 shutout. Napanee’s defense was able to completely neutralize the Pirate offense, particularly through the first three games, keeping them to just 76 shots over the entire series. By contrast, Picton goalie Kyle Renaud, who started every game in the series, saw 140 shots, which also included an early exit in Game 2’s 6-0 loss.
Picton, the second-seeded team who entered the series as arguably the hottest team in the league and had defeated the Raiders in their previous three regular season matchups, had reason to believe they could hang with the top-ranked team. They proved that in Game 1, when the game was tied 2-2 with 13 minutes to go in the third. Napanee would score three unanswered and then never looked back from there, earning a 6-0 win in Picton the next night and then a 5-1 victory at home Saturday. With their backs against the wall at home on Sunday in Game 4 the Pirates showed more of their Game 1 fight, but ultimately couldn’t keep pace. All told Napanee outscored the young Pirate team 20-5 in the sweep.
Ryan Casselman finished the series as the leading scorer, picking up seven goals and an assist. Mroueh had three goals. Now a perfect 8-0 in the playoffs, the Raiders have gotten at least one goal from 16 different players through the post-season.
With Sunday’s win the Raiders exercised some playoff demons, winning their first league title since the 2009-10 season. Since then the Raiders had reached the finals four separate times, but came up short. Last year’s playoff exit was a particularly painful one, losing in the first round after setting a franchise mark in regular season points.
Those playoffs now a distant memory, the Raiders will now gear up for their first Schmalz Cup playoff appearance in almost a decade, when they reached the quarter-finals. They now await the winner of the Orr Division final between the North Kawartha Knights and the Uxbridge Bruins, which the Bruins currently lead 3-1. Game 5 is scheduled for tonight. In a small sample size, the Raiders swept the two game season series against the Bruins, winning 2-1 and 3-2, while going 1-1 against the Knights, losing 6-3 and winning 3-2.
Napanee won the Schmalz Cup in 1993, their lone Junior C provincial championship to date.