Once a hallmark of the Dukes, discipline is slipping away. With it go games that should be won
Dukes forward Mitchell Mendonca has amazing offensive skills. He is lightning quick and sees the ice better than most at the Junior A level. He knows where the opportunities are going to arise and knows when to strike. He knows when to slide the puck to a linemate, and possesses the skill to put it right in his winger’s wheelhouse.
In 44 games with the Dukes last year Mendonca scored 20 goals, set up 19. So after a stint with the OHL’s Erie Otters didn’t pan out, Mendonca rejoined the Dukes in late September. He now centres a line between Anthony Rinaldi and Ben Evans (newly acquired from the Ottawa 67s).
In six games, he has four goals and a pair of assists. A point a game pace. That’s good. Not so good is the fact that Mendonca has racked up 26 penalty minutes in those six games. Worse, each of his infractions—save for one 10-minute inciting-an-opponent-tofight penalty—has been for slashing and hooking. Lazy penalties. Penalties that serve no good purpose.
Mendonca’s speed is reserved, it seems, for going up ice. He has, seemingly, little interest in doing the hard work it takes to hustle back and fix a mistake. Instead, he prefers to use his stick to slow down the escaping opponent rather than unleash his speed to back check. Over and over again. Sometimes he is caught and penalized. Sometimes not.
He is an opportunist. He likes to hide in the weeds. As such, he won’t get dirty in front of the net, nor will he do the grunt work along the boards. Instead, he waits for others to come up with the puck.
Successful hockey teams need an opportunist— the invisible sniper. But a team of 23 players can’t afford a player that only plays in one direction.
More problematic, his habits are rubbing off on his team mates. The Dukes’ success in past seasons was predicated largely on discipline. Season after season, the Dukes enjoyed the lowest or near lowest penalty minutes. Speed and discipline.
However, the Dukes are currently the third most penalized team, behind only Aurora and Burlington (though Wellington has played more games than most so far this season).
Five times during the Sunday’s contest the Dukes played short-handed. Twice they played two men down. You can’t win games playing shorthanded over and over again.
After the Dukes drew even with the Kingston Voyageurs in the third period on Thursday—Mendonca was penalized for hooking. The Dukes’ penalty killers ensured that it didn’t cost them the game—this time.
Penalties arising from aggression and tenacity are part of the game. Leaving your team shorthanded because you refuse to skate back is not.
Yet with every goal and assist, the 19- year-old’s deficiencies get overlooked. Excused. His one-dimensional play is reinforced.
Bad habits, once established, are hard to break. Worse, they are contagious.
ON THE ICE
The Wellington Dukes continued to tick off games at a hectic pace through this early part of the schedule.
In Kingston the Dukes rallied to tie the Voyageurs in a fast-paced contest that tested both netminders, Jonah Capriotti for the Dukes and Trevor Withers for Kingston. Teddy McGeen scored a goal in the second and set up Mitch Martan’s tying goal in the third.
On Friday night, the Dukes tangled with the fast and aggressive forechecking of the Stouffville Spirit. The Spirit game plan was clearly based on shock and awe—chasing the Dukes defenders hard into the corners looking to turn over the puck and create scoring chances.
And for a while it worked. Pierce Nelson had to be sharp early on. After Colin Doyle scored on the power play, Stouffville rebounded with a pair to take the lead. Mendonca scored late in the frame to tie the game, and he scored again early in third to retake the lead.
But with the Dukes short-handed midway through the final period, the Spirit tallied to knot the match at three goals apiece. Fortunately, Stouffville was the more undisciplined team on Friday. Five seconds after Spirit defenceman Jacob Breckles was sent to the box for tripping, Mendonca fed a perfect pass to Rinaldi. His one-timer gave the Dukes the lead. Evans’ empty net goal sealed the win.
On Sunday, the Dukes skated before a thin Thanksgiving crowd. It didn’t begin well. Either sleepy from extra helpings of turkey or playing their third game in four days, the Dukes struggled to get their feet moving.
Mere seconds into the game, Mendonca was penalized for hooking. While the Dukes managed to kill that penalty, battling tough down low in their own end led to another penalty. Again the Dukes withstood the onslaught. But they couldn’t get their feet moving. A turnover in the offensive end became a breakaway after the Dukes’ defence over-committed. The Dukes trailed on the scoresheet.
Late in the first, Doyle’s line turned up the intensity. Martan rung the goal post and McGeen was stoned on a brilliant three-way pass play. Midway through the second, Graeme McCrory—working hard in the blue paint—became entangled with the Markham netminder. The puck came loose. Evans out to Mendonca, who lobbed the puck over the mass of players and into the net.
The Royals complained, but to no avail.
The penalties kept coming. Another long two-man disadvantage. More brilliant penalty killing. Then with time running out in the second, the Dukes’ Daniel Panetta took a pass from Martan, shovelling it through the fivehole. The Dukes had the lead.
In the third, Markham continued to demonstrate an extremely fast transition game—repeatedly catching the young Dukes defence flat-footed, testing Creed Jones in the Dukes net. On one such rush, Zach Sheedy raced unchecked down the left wing, picked his spot and fired top corner, short side. Tie game.
In the second overtime—three on three—the Dukes were too clever by half. They had had their chances in overtime, but mostly from the high slot or outside. Doyle, McGeen and Evans decided they would navigate through the Markham defence. One too many drop passes. Turnover. Markham fast break. Breakaway. Score.
It was the Dukes’ first loss in eight games.
Come early to the rink on Friday and enjoy a hearty helping of chili prepared by the amazing Wellington Dukes ladies. You will also be helping the team.
UP NEXT: MISSISSAUGA, AURORA AND COBOURG
The pace doesn’t let up for the Dukes this weekend. On Friday, they welcome the Mississauga Chargers to Wellington. Though improved this season, the Chargers struggle to move beyond a .500 team. But as stats wizard David Brown observes, if Mississauga continues the team’s current pace, it will be the first time in 13 years they will have won more games than they’ve lost.
On Saturday, the Dukes travel to Aurora to face the North Division leaders for the second time this season. In the previous game, the Dukes spotted the Tigers three goals before Doyle, McGeen, Rinaldi and company mounted a comeback to win the game 6-5.
On Monday night, Wellington heads up the 401 to face the resurgent Cobourg Cougars. Dreadful through much of September, the Cougars have won five straight games since September 25.