Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
June 14, 2024
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Sports
March 11, 2024

Close but not close enough

Pirates bow out to Raiders after six hard fought games
<p>Nic McGrayne stretches out to make a save in Game 6. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)</p>
Nic McGrayne stretches out to make a save in Game 6. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

The width of a cross bar was all that separated the Picton Pirates and a potential Game 7 showdown with their ‘Forever Rivals’ the Napanee Raiders.

Ahead 4-2 inside the opening five minutes of the third period in Game 6 Thursday night, Picton forward Gerrit Kempers found himself in the high slot area with the puck on his stick and the top half of a gaping Napanee Raiders net staring back at him.

Delicately put the puck into the ocean of mesh and the Raiders are more than likely due to pack up their tent and start saving themselves for a deciding contest at the Strathcona Paper Centre.

All but for the clank of the crossbar.

Of course, most watchers are aware of what transpired in the third period Thursday. Of the four losses Picton suffered at the hands of the higher seeded Raiders in this series, three of those losses came after the Pirates held a lead or were tied coming into the third period. Napanee’s depth and propensity to come back ended up being the storyline of the series.

Goals from Trent Williams and Andrew Carr just over two minutes apart at the midway point of the frame stifled any discussion of a Game 7 in Napanee Friday and a successful 3-on-2 rush with Micheal Patrick playing the triggerman on Erik MacNiel’s feed at 17:21 ended it.

Mr. Carr’s second of the game into an empty net was the final salvo in a series where the plucky Pirates pushed the Raiders and punched above their weight to give the opposing squad plenty to think about.

If Napanee’s ability to escape an upset scenario was the primary plot point of the series, the goaltending of Pirate puck stopper Nic McGrayne was the key subtext. The Picton native sparkled in the Pirates cage, posting a .919 save percentage and while the game got away from the Pirates and Mr. McGrayne in the third period of Game 6, his exploits won’t be lost on local hockey fans as he nearly willed his way to a first round victory.

GETTING AHEAD

The Pirates came out of the first period with a 2-1 margin. Cole Stevenson opened the scoring with a nifty unassisted effort. After Ben Chubbs tied it for the Raiders, Mr. Kempers made a nice fake to catch Napanee netminder Logan Vale leaning and zipped a shot to the glove side at 11:03 to make it 2-1.

Picton’s Luc Amat showed off some nice hands, scoring his club’s fourth goal late in the second period of Game 6 Thursday (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

The Raiders and Cameron Krupa would strike quickly at the start of the second, scoring just 10 seconds in to tie it at 2-2.

But the Pirates would pull away later in the frame. Cole Lavender would spring Nick Kirby who made the most of a partial breakaway, picking the corner behind Mr. Vale 14:46.

Picton’s Luc Amat would wind up scoring one of the prettiest goals of the series to push Picton ahead by a pair, collecting a pass from Mr. Stevenson and dancing through the defence before going top bunk over the Napanee netminder with just 2:37 left in the second.

The Pirates gathered for the final time as a time in 2023-24 on Sunday for their annual photo night which doubles as a pizza and shinny outing. Spirits were as high as they could be, knowing how close the team came to vanquishing the Raiders and falling just short.

While the team will say goodbye to graduates Ian Harrsion, Mr. Kirby and Garrison Moore, the future of this nucleus looks bright with the likes of Mr. Amat, Cole and Kirk Stevenson, Liam Rice, Mack Moyer and Reese Kleinsteuber. Coaches Ian Brooks and Jamie Lane who stepped aboard mid season will be in discussions with the club executive in the coming weeks to see if there’s appetite from either side to continue into the 2024-25 Provincial Junior Hockey League season.

And, as it always does with the passage of spring and summer, one junior hockey season will transition into the next.

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