By Jeff Gard/Today’s Northumberland
The Port Hope Panthers have advanced to the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Tod Division final.
That’s despite a valiant comeback attempt by the Napanee Raiders in the series and in Game 6, which the Panthers held on to win 6-5 Thursday night at the Jack Burger Sports Complex in Port Hope.
Port Hope won the best-of-seven division semifinal 4-2, but the Raiders didn’t go quietly. Napanee once trailed the series 3-0 and also faced a three-goal deficit in the third period of Game 6 before the Panthers finally dispatched of the division’s top team from the regular season.
“We knew coming into the series they’re a good team,” said Panthers’ captain Drew Clapperton, pointing to Napanee losing just five times in regulation time during the season leading up to playoffs. “We knew it was going to be a hard series, we knew we were going to have to battle back so that’s what we did tonight. We gave it our all and now we’ve got a little bit of a break to heal up.”
Port Hope awaits the winner of the other semifinal match-up between the Picton Pirates and Amherstview Jets. The Pirates lead the series 3-2 following a 4-3 overtime win Thursday evening.
Game 6 is Saturday night in Picton and, if necessary, the seventh-and-deciding contest will be Sunday afternoon in Amherstview.
Clapperton, who opened the scoring and also assisted on a key second-period goal, said the Panthers had no interest, of course, in heading back to Napanee for a deciding game in their series on Sunday and relished the victory Thursday evening in front of close to 500 spectators in their home rink.
“We played as if it was Game 7 tonight because there was no Sunday for us,” Clapperton said.
Port Hope led twice in the first period of Game 6, but the Raiders answered back each time.
Seven minutes into the second, the Panthers hit a post on a shorthanded opportunity right before Marshall McFarland scored a go-ahead power-play goal for Napanee to make it 3-2. The Raiders stayed on the power play, though, as a delayed penalty was called on Port Hope right before McFarland scored.
With time close to expiring on that Raiders man-advantage opportunity, Isaac Langdon scored shorthanded for the Panthers, which lit a fire under teammates. His goal tied the game and was one of three Port Hope markers in a span of 2:12.
Carter Clarke scored 42 seconds later to put the Panthers in front 4-3 and Cole Kimble bolstered the lead to two just five seconds into a Port Hope power play.
“The bounces weren’t really going our way at the start so we just needed one to get the boys back and ready to go and…we just kept our foot on the pedal and just kept going,” Clapperton said.
In the third, Josh Sainthill tallied his second goal of the night to give the Panthers a three-goal cushion at the time, but in the end it proved to be the deciding goal.
Napanee cut the deficit to two less than four minutes into that final frame and pulled within one with three minutes left on the clock in regulation time before the Panthers secured the series victory to move on in the PJHL playoffs.
“Since January we’ve fought a lot of adversity on this team, we’ve had a lot of new guys come in and we’ve gelled really well and all the new guys that came in have showed their leadership and showed what they can do on the ice and we just keep rolling and hopefully we can make it out of the Tod.”