Old rivals will meet for a very unique showdown on Sunday when the Napanee Raiders visit the Amherstview Jets to kick off a seven game bubble exhibition series.
The rules will look very different and there won’t be any fans in the stands but as far as 2020 goes, it’s a huge step in the right direction towards a return to competitive hockey.
“The main thing is we’re getting the kids on the ice in a game setting rather than just a practice setting,” said Raiders head coach Ben Hagerman. “We are going to have to play with modified rules to start that the OHF (Ontario Hockey Federation) has given us. It’s 11 on 11 games for 22 minutes straight time periods.”
There will be no face-offs. If a play is whistled offside, the offending team will skate back to the red line and the other team is given puck possession. If a goalie covers the puck, the offensive team will be required to retreat to the blue line before the puck goes live.
“The OHF has just done their best to ensure no close contact for prolonged periods of time,” said Hagerman.
Each team will have six forwards, four defense and a goalie available to start the game. After 22 minutes of run time, the ice will be flooded and teams will bring back a new set of 11 players and the game will resume.
“It’s a lot more than just the score,” said Hagerman. “It’s getting the guys some game action and keeping our programs viable through this really difficult time.”
The seven game series will shift back and forth between Amherstview and Napanee, two communities that fall under the same health unit. The Jets will have home ice for Nov. 29, Dec. 6 and Dec. 13 at the W.J. Henderson Arena while the Raiders will be the home team on Dec. 4, Dec. 11 and Dec. 18 at the Strathcona Paper Centre. All of those dates are subject to change at anytime depending on direction from Public Health.
Meanwhile the league will continue to work towards launching a regular season with a new optimistic target date of Jan. 1. If that doesn’t happen, the Raiders will explore the possibility of playing a series with nearby Picton or Gananoque.
“As much as we’d love to play in front of our fans and our sponsors, it’s just not feasible in the times that we’re in,” said Hagerman. “As we move forward into February or March maybe something breaks loose.”
With so much uncertainty about the next few weeks, Hagerman says the team will continue to its part to be ready to go when they finally get the green light to play a regular season, whether it be early next year or next September.