Airhart chooses to develop with Raiders

For Matthew Airhart, there’s no place like home.

The outgoing captain of the Quinte Under-16 Red Devils — and a recent fifth-round draft selection of the OHL’s London Knights — considered his options to start his junior hockey career and kept circling back to a familiar team.

On Tuesday, he signed with the Provincial Hockey League’s Napanee Raiders for the 2024-2025 season.

“It’s extremely exciting. I’ve always been around the team. Ever since I was young, I always looked at it as ‘the big league.’ Lots of people have probably seen me (at the games) with my buddies in the corner supporting them,” said Airhart. “I’m very excited to represent Napanee wearing the Raiders logo.”

His strong connection comes naturally as his family spans three generations with the team. Matthew’s father, Mike, played goal for the local junior team, and his grandfather, Chuck, was an executive member in its early years.

Asked about his decision, Airhart said he had development in mind. While he has lofty goals to advance in the game, he knew his friends playing for his hometown team had good experiences learning under Coach Ben Hagerman and his staff.

“I wasn’t ready to move away from home quite yet. I wanted to stay around Napanee and play for a good organization,” he said. “I’m excited to make that step and play a year at home.”

The potential to play for a contender and contribute was also a factor as the Raiders can return two-thirds of their Tod Division championship roster, allowing Airhart to play alongside talented veterans.

“Simply, I want to win. I hate to lose,” he said. “(My goal is to) play like I’m not a 16 year old. I want to be one of the guys who plays a big, heavy game, who puts up a lot of points — and I’d like to play a bit of a leadership role too.”

Airhart hopes fans will notice that he always delivers a full effort on the ice and is approachable off of it.

Hagerman is looking forward to seeing the new addition to his lineup.

“Matthew is a well-rounded player with size and smarts that are beyond his years. We will be looking to him for an offensive punch lost in some graduating veterans.”

In his draft year, Airhart notched 36 points in 30 games.

While Hagerman is keenly aware the forward has consistently been among the offensive leaders for the AAA Red Devils over a five-year span upon advancing from the Napanee Stars program, he said Airhart’s character was also critically important to his commitment as the team’s lone 16-year-old signing.

“The Napanee Raiders are proud to continue to develop players that improve and live up to our culture of on- and — most importantly — off-ice excellence, and Matthew will do just that.”

The Raiders will continue to recruit new and returning players leading up to the
opening of training camp Aug. 25. Stay tuned for more announcements.