By far the strangest season in Napanee Raiders’ franchise history came to a close last week, with nary a regular season win, loss or draw.
COVID-19 safety protocols allowed for the Junior C hockey team just 20 modified exhibition games, played within the bubble of neighbouring Amherstview and Picton. The last of those two games were played March 19, with the Raiders picking up two wins for a series sweep.
From there the club held a few more practices to close out the month before officially calling it a season.
“We were pretty happy with the way we played against Picton,” said Raiders head coach Ben Hagerman. “I thought we got better as the series went along with Amherstview (held in November and December), I saw us coming along pretty strong there and picked up pretty much right where we left off even though there was seven weeks in between. I think it bodes well for the future. We proved that we’ve assembled a really good, highly skilled group of forwards that’s almost as equal as the teams from the last couple of years. Maybe not the household names or the age and experience those teams had but certainly close to the skill and depth. We’re really happy with that, we’ve got a little bit of work to do rebuilding the backend, losing (Matt) Panetta and (Curtis) Marrison is a huge loss, there could be a guy or two moving on to a higher level. We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire on the recruitment side in that respect and we’ve still got some really capable guys coming back.”
Both of the team’s goalies, Mitch Bown and Bailey Maracle, are set to return next year as well.
Hagerman says the team is well set up not only for next year, but also for the next two or three years with a young core of players.
“The way the year went with so much uncertainty, if the year had have been a normal year, we’re probably not near the dominant force we’ve been,” said Hagerman. “I think we would have been very competitive but the year sort of offered the rebuild year, whatever you want to call it, actually did us some good. It gave our young guys a chance to see what things are all about and then before you know it they’re a whole year older before we return hopefully for a real hockey season.”
Hagerman says the team was on the ice just after Labour Day and outside of the lockdown, they were practicing or playing exhibition games once a week for the last eight months. He credited the players’ dedication and willingness to following COVID-19 protocols for allowing them to still make good use of a hockey season that never really happened.
“I would have rather a regular year of hockey, don’t get me wrong,” said Hagerman. “But if it had to happen, this was the year.”
Though there was no regular season, the team still saw three mainstays age out of Junior C in Devon King, Marrison and Panetta.
All three were members of the 2019 Schmalz Cup winning team.
“They all wore letters, Panetta wore a letter on his jersey the last three years, he was our captain this year,” said Hagerman. “The other two were just fabulous Napanee Raiders the way they represented themselves on and off the ice. They’re all three top notch students and they’re all going to do well moving forward in life and it sounds like there’s a lot of interest for all three of them to play senior hockey if they decide to do that.”
Hagerman also thanked the fans that supported the team, though they were forced to do from home this year. The team was able to live stream their exhibition games on Facebook and saw a good response through social media. The hope is that come September the team will not only be back to playing regular season games, but will do so in front of fans.