Pirates host Raiders in front of an audience at Lehigh Sunday afternoon

Hanmer native and Picton Pirates prospect Noah Beaulne works out with Wellington Duke Cole McGuire at Lehigh Arena Thursday. Beaulne is expected to play part of the game against the Napanee Raiders on Sunday. (Gazette Staff)

The last time a local hockey team was preforming for a crowd in Prince Edward County, the Picton Pirates had just dropped the second game of the 2020 Tod Division Finals to the visiting Napanee Raiders and were hoping for a quick turn around when they travelled to the Strathcona Paper Centre the following evening-Friday, March 13, 2020.

Picton’s Chase Lavender pursues Justin Steven of the Napanee Raiders during the 2019-20 season. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

That fateful night, March 12, 2020, was the day all amateur hockey dreams in this country-for that spring and the following season-died.

Junior hockey with fans in the stands returns to Prince Edward County on Sunday afternoon as the Pirates host their Skyway Bridge rivals the Raiders at Lehigh Arena at 2:30 p.m.

A team of Picton prospects will be taking on their counterparts from Napanee.

“We’re stopping just short of calling it a game per sé. We are still under stage 3 of the reopening of Ontario road map so while we are able to have fans in the stands at Lehigh Arena, we are limited to the number of skaters we can have at the bench areas,” Pirates General Manager Jason Parks said. “At 13 skaters a side, we are going to play 15 minute periods to ensure there’s not risk of injury due to exhausted players.”

Parks added he expects to get the matter of the permitted number of players on a bench sorted out and more uniform as the preseason unfolds.

“According to some of my counterparts across the Tod division, they are telling me to bring a full 20 player roster so something will have to give at the provincial level,” he said.

Provided spectators maintain six feet of social distancing, upwards of 500 fans could start attending hockey games at Lehigh Arena although the exact number is still a moving target while the seating and square footage measurements are still being worked out.

“We certainly don’t expect that many people on Sunday but we will be prepared,” Parks added. “We will be screening everyone who attends and doing our due diligence with regards to contact tracing.”

Picton is expected to dress a squad that will be made up of several County Kings such as Liam Rice, Ben Smith and Riley Grimmon and well as recently signed blue liner Trot Davis.

“I think I might try and sneak forward Ian Harrison into the lineup on Sunday,” Parks said with a laugh. “I think he’s only played five PJHL games over the last three seasons. He’s as eager as anyone to get out there.”

Picton will host the North Kawartha Knights on Thursday Sept. 9 at Lehigh at 7:30 p.m. and then travel to Port Hope on Sat. Sept 11 to play the Panthers. -Staff