NAPANEE – The long summer months of recruiting and planning have passed and the puck drops for real today.
It’s been a busy off-season for the Napanee Raiders as they’ve looked to reload and reset after a first-round upset at the hands of the upstart Port Hope Panthers in last year’s Schmalz Cup playoffs. While 14 regulars return from a team that went 35-5-1 in 2022-2023, fans will recognize some significant change in key areas this year.
The Raiders have revamped their blue line, adding Junior A veterans Jackson Barnes (from Nepean) and Erik MacNeil (from Burlington). The duo will add poise and experience, filling a hole left by graduating overagers Noah Westwater and Payton Gauthier. A pair of talented young locals in Carter Hartwick, 16, and Luke Jarmin, 17, also figure in the makeover, adding their skill to returnees Connor Brooks, Ryan Kidd, and Cole Campbell.
The goal crease will also feature a different look for the first time in five years with long-time starter Bailey Maracle, the last remaining player from the 2019 Schmalz Cup team aging out. Logan Vale moves up from the affiliate ranks after strong final midget season with the Greater Kingston AAA Gaels. Sam Closs, another promising youngster who spent 2022-2023 with the Amherstview Jets will share the crease and look to build on his experience.
Four-line forward depth has been a hallmark for coach Ben Hagerman in recent years and this year will be no exception. The team’s top six scorers are back in Cam Krupa, Christos Chronis, Ben White, Marshall McFarland, Ben Carter and Tod Division rookie of the year Blake Aylesworth. Full seasons from Michael Patrick, Ben Chubbs and Beckett Palmer-Stephen should also help considerably, while Reid Lambert and Adam Nuttall can use their strength to contribute. Joining the forwards this year are former affiliate Trent Williams (a top-three scorer for Quinte AAA the past two years), local product Spencer Cranley, a huge producer with the Napanee Stars, and Sam McDonald, a Loyalist College student from Mississauga who earned a spot with grit and smarts this preseason.
Behind the bench, an all-alumni staff returns with Hagerman, Chris Brown, and Evan Brown. Napanee’s Nathan Murphy – also once a Raider player – joins the staff as equipment manager/trainer. Assistant manager Scott Sharp remains a valuable contributor who makes a huge difference with video. Roddy Todd also returns as an equipment manager/trainer, while Hannah Dafoe joins the team as a trainer and therapy assistant. Adam Bramburger returns as general manager, while Artie Wilson is back as an equipment assistant.
Following Friday’s home opener against the Campbellford Rebels, the Raiders will hit the road to Amherstview for a 1:30 p.m. start Sunday.