The Napanee Raiders’ extended run as reigning Ontario Junior C Hockey Schmalz Cup champions came to an end Thursday night, falling 4-1 to the Clarington Eagles in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Eagles closed out the series on home ice to advance to the modified Schmalz Cup round robin tournament.
Clarington got on the board early, taking advantage of a bench minor penalty assessed to the Raiders before the opening puck drop. Dawson Manning scored on the ensuing power-play, just 24 seconds into the game. Owen Manarin doubled the lead just shy of the 11-minute mark.
Ben Carter gave the Raiders a glimmer of hope in the second, notching a power-play goal four minutes into the frame. Ben White and Noah Westwater picked up assist on the play.
Clarington’s Mitchell Doyle got that goal back at 15:14 mark to restore the two-goal advantage heading into the final intermission.
Their season on the line with just 20 minutes to play, the Raiders couldn’t get the offense going. Any hope of a comeback was further dashed when Clarington’s Leyton Aitken was awarded a penalty shot during a Raiders’ power-play. He converted on the opportunity to push the lead to 4-1.
Eagles netminder Alex Lepizzera took it from there, blanking Napanee over the final 20 minutes to punch his team’s ticket to the next round. He finished with 31 saves on the night and picked up all four of his team’s win in the series, earning a pair of shutouts along with the one goal effort tonight. Napanee’s Bailey Maracle meanwhile was blasted with 55 shots on the night, stopping 51 of them in the losing effort.
The loss signals the end of Napanee’s season, which saw them go 22-4-0-4 in the regular season, finishing second in the division. They got their playoffs started with a 4-1 series win over the Picton Pirates and then battled the top seeded Amherstview Jets to a thrilling Game 7, clinching the division with an overtime victory. After going all the way in 2019, the Raiders had their attempt to repeat as champions cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic, which would go on to wipe out the entire 2020-21 season. After biding farewell to almost their entire championship roster during that time, the Raiders found a way to re-invent themselves this season and went on a deep playoff run before ultimately coming up short against Clarington.