The seemingly invincible Napanee Raiders finally ran out of playoff lives on Saturday afternoon in Bowmanville, falling 4-3 to the Clarington Eagles in Game 5 of the PJHL’s Eastern Conference Finals.
The victory allowed the Eagles to clinch the series four games to one-the second time they did so in three days. The Eagles thought they had clinched the series Thursday when they picked up a 4-1 win-only to have the results over turned when the Raiders successfully protested the results. Their complaint stemmed from the fact they were handed a two-minute penalty for a warm up violation just ahead of the game. The Eagles would take advantage of the power-play, scoring just 24 seconds into the game. After the game the Raiders protested, correctly noting that the warm up violation shouldn’t have resulted in a two-minute power-play. Though once a penalty in previous years, that rule had since been phased out. The league agreed the mix up was a big enough factor to warrant nullifying the entire Game 5 results and have the two teams start from scratch Saturday night.
Napanee made the most of their second opportunity early on as Ben Chubbs scored 6:25 into the game.
The Eagles’ Brady Darrach responded just shy of the midway mark and Matt McCullough tacked on another for the home team at 13:40 to give them a lead they’d never relinquish.
Hayes Bell put the Eagles up 3-1 at 13:45. With their season slipping away, Napanee’s Connor Brooks scored in the dying seconds of the middle period to bring Napanee to within one heading into the final intermission.
Once again facing the notion of seeing the playoff run come to an end, the Raiders were forced to dig deep. There would be no miracle on ice however as Jordan Shaw stretch the Eagle’s advantage to 4-2 at 13:12. Brooks once again responded to give his team a chance, scoring with just under three minutes to go in the game. That was as close as they’d get however as Eagle’s netminder Alex Lepizzera slammed the door. He finished with 44 saves on the night, outduelling Napanee’s Bailey Maracle who had 38 saves.
With that, the Raiders season once again came to a close. At times it appeared fate was on their side as they advanced to the Eastern Finals on a controversial note when officials granted them a second chance in sudden-death overtime of Game 7 of the Tod Division Finals. The Amherstview Jets celebrated what they though was the series clinching goal only to have the refs wave it off after getting together and ruling the net had come loose before the goal was scored. Just a few minutes later Napanee’s Noah Westwater would score to clinch the series.
Saturday’s loss in Bowmanville ended the Raiders’ season three years to the day they clinched the 2019 Schmalz Cup, marking the last time Ontario’s Junior C trophy has been awarded prior to the pandemic. The Eagles now-officially-advance to the province’s final four tournament to play a round robin style format to determine which two teams will play for the cup.