For the Beaver
The Napanee Raiders had that clinching feeling this weekend as the local Provincial Junior Hockey League club cemented its third consecutive Tod Division regular season crown in a Home-and-Away sweep of the Port Hope Panthers.
The Raiders got past the desperate Panthers at home on Friday night in overtime by a score of 3-2 and then handled the host Cats at the Jack Burger Sports Complex on Saturday night 5-2.
Saturday night’s win over Port Hope also made the Tod Division playoff picture a little clearer as both the Picton Pirates and the Amherstview Jets clinched playoff spots.
While there is still jockeying to be done in terms of seeding, the Panthers are currently on the outside looking in with 39 points, trailing fourth place Gananoque by six.
The Jets and Pirates look destined to meet one another for a second straight post season in the two-vs.-three match up with Picton holding a four point edge on Amherstview however the latter has three games in hand on the former.
Nevertheless, the Raiders will enter the Tod Division playoffs with the knowledge they will host the first game of the opening round thanks to Friday’s overtime victory and, should they succeed in the first round, the same could be said for the second round as well.
Raiders Head Coach Ben Hagerman told the Beaver finishing first overall in the Tod Division isn’t the club’s number one goal but still felt pretty good as the team left the playing surface Friday.
“Clinching first feels good, doesn’t matter what league you’re in,” Hagerman said. “Knowing you’ve had a strong, consistent regular season is great but its obviously not the end goal for us. We play in a very strong division and we’re very proud of the way we’ve been able to carve out our one goal wins and close games this season.”
On Friday, Napanee would outshoot Port Hope in the first period 18-13 but come away from the Panthers cage shaking their head time and again as starter Curtis Laviolette was stellar, stymieing shooters over the opening 20 minutes.
In the second, the Panthers caught up with the Raiders as Nicholas Ainsworth managed to get enough of the puck and send it under Napanee starter Bailey Maracle at 12:44 to break the ice and give Port Hope a 1-0 lead they would carry into the second intermission.
In the third, the Raiders went to work and showed that vaunted offensive touch.
Just 1:28 in, Aidan McFarland jumped on an errant Port Hope puck and pumped it past Laviolette for a an unassisted shorthanded goal that tied the game at 1-1.
Just under two minutes later, Nick Case gave the hosts their first lead of the contest as he took a nice Soren Zamuner feed and beat Laviolette five hole at 3:21.
But the Panthers looked every part the desperate hockey club Friday night and Simon Feig would jam home a goal at 8:12 to square the affair at 2-2.
The Panthers pressed, sending 17 shots Maracle’s way in the third period but credit the Deseronto native for making numerous big stops to keep the game tied.
At the end of regulation, Napanee had a pair of glorious chances to break Port Hope’s heart including a 2-on-1 feed that saw Evan Foley alone in front with under ten seconds left but a right pad stop by Laviolette ensured both teams would secure a point.
In overtime, the Raiders seemed to come to life and Carter Clarke wrapped up a Napanee skater in the corner after a flurry of chances in the Port Hope end, sending the hosts to the power play.
With the man advantage, the Raiders hemmed the Panthers in the defensive zone for a long time before the puck was finally cleared.
Maracle, perhaps Napanee’s most consistent player in the contest, made a quick up pass to Foley who sprung Austin Labelle at the Porth Hope blue line.
With a burst of speed, Labelle was able to split the Panthers defence and knife a puck past Laviolette at 4:26 of the extra frame to send the denizens of the Strathcona den to their cars in a happy mood.
Saturday’s game lacked drama of the previous night’s affair as Raider Devon King erupted for four goals in a 5-2 win.
Case set up King 15 seconds in to stake the Raiders to a 1-0 lead in a contest where they never trailed.
Fie would beat Mitch Brown with a shorthanded tally at 4:35 but King responded with this second of the period from Justynn Steven and Adian McFarland at 12:32.
The clubs traded goals in the second as Steven would make it 3-1 in favour of the visitors 49 seconds in but Ainsworth’s second power play goal in as many games later in the middle stanza shaved the Napanee margin to 3-2 after 40 minutes.
But in the third, King continued his hot streak and potted a pair in the late going, both unassisted markers.
Hagermans said the staff and the rest of the squad were thrilled for the native Kingstonian.
“Kinger is one of the most popular guys in our dressing room. His teammates just love him and he will play any role that we ask of him,” Hagerman added. “When you see a player like Devon have success you can’t help but smile as a coach.”
It was a gritty road performance for the Raiders who only had 14 skaters in the line up.
Napanee is back at it Tuesday night in Campbellford and then plays host to Gananoque in what could be a first-round playoff preview between the Raiders and the Isles.
The following night the Raiders are in Amherstview to take on the Jets.