Taking stock of his Napanee Raiders roster just over a week out from Opening Night, Ben Hagerman likes what he sees.
The incoming Junior C coach acknowledges the team bid farewell to some key members of last year’s Schmalz Cup core, but feels they’ve got enough returning to make another deep run.
“We had a pretty good response from returning players that wanted to skate this summer when we had our July camp,” said Hagerman. “Some younger players seemed interested in coming aboard. Then in the last week or so we’ve had more formal main camp skates and started signing some returning players.”
Among those committed to coming back were overagers Justynn Steven, who wore the ‘C’ last year, Deseronto’s Brodie Maracle, who returns for a sixth junior season, fourth with the Raiders, and Evan Foley, who came over from the Port Hope Panthers prior to last season and filled the last piece of the puzzle to get Napanee over the hump in the playoffs. Defenceman Curtis Marrison also returns, as does Devin King.
In net the Raiders will welcome back Bailey Maracle, who went 18-3 with a 1.71 GAA in 22 regular season games. He also picked up four playoff wins in four starts.
“It’s exciting things happening,” said Hagerman. “We have some other veterans that are just getting back into town that are attending Queen’s.”
The coach expects more veterans to sign over the next few days ahead of their two game pre-season schedule, which begins Friday, when they welcome the Gananoque Islanders for a 7:30 p.m. puck drop. They’ll travel to Gananoque on Sunday to wrap up the pre-season. The games start to count Sept. 14 when they kick off the season on the road against the Uxbridge Bruins.
“Mike Hartwick did such an incredible job of recruiting a team that actually has a chance to win more than one year,” Hagerman said of his predecessor. “They have a chance to win another year, I would say expectations are high based on the lineups we’re going to put on the ice and it’ll be up to us as coaches and players to perform on those expectations. From what I’m hearing on the whole, the league’s going to be stronger than last year. There’s going to be a lot of parity so by no means is it going to be easy. It’s going to be a battle each night and every night. Once you add the other division into that mix, it should be a lot of really good, competitive hockey.”
As good as last year’s team was, Hagerman knows it’ll be a completely different story when the puck drops to start the 2019-20 campaign.
“I’m not going to carry a repeat sort of mantra with me,” he said. “It’s not about what happened last year. Are we going to win every night? Probably not-although they almost did last year. It’s certainly a different team than last year and we’re going to have to find different ways to win. But there’s enough core and new pieces coming in, there’s a chance to do something special again.”
Though his first year at the helm in Napanee, the 32-year-old comes with eight years coaching experience with the Quinte Red Devils, which followed a five year playing career with the Raiders that ended in 2008. During his time with the Quinte minor-midgets he was able to work with a class of players that will just now be making the jump to junior.
Having captained a deep playoff run during his playing days with Napanee, as well as following along last year’s march to the Schmalz Cup, he’s very aware of what the team means to this town.
“This is a community team and if it wasn’t for the tremendous sponsors, and people like Morris Hart who have been involved with the team from Day 1, there wouldn’t be the Napanee Raiders,” said Hagerman. “We want to reward sponsors and fans with a good product every home game and we want a long playoff run again. I never got to the finals (as a player) but I got to the semifinal and I played in a few Game 7s along the way. When you get into some real good hockey, this community just goes nuts.”