Bit by bit
There were some prettier goals in Wellington’s drubbing of Lindsay on Sunday. Eric Uba finishing a brilliant passing play from Geoff Lawson and Graeme McCrory was one. Or Andrew Rinaldi, literally throwing himself into position to lift the puck short side before crashing painfully into the boards, knocking both the wind and any loose change from his body. Both were impressive. But for this fan, it was the goal by young defenceman Zach Uens. Maybe not the goal so much, as much as what came next.
Uens is just 16, and slight. He will fill out, but he has a way to go yet. Still, he logs regular shifts on the Dukes defence. He makes a lot of mistakes. The youthful kind. But he learns from his miscues. And then there is his shot. For a kid who tips the scales at under 160 pounds, his shot from the point is utterly lethal. More power than accuracy. But such power. When the puck leaves his stick, shot-blockers are risking injury.
So it was on Sunday. The game was already settled. Had been since midway through the first period. By the middle of the third, the Lindsay Muskies were just counting the minutes before they could crawl back onto their bus and put memories of Wellington behind them.
The Dukes moved the puck well around the edge. Looking for a lane, a window, an undefended line mate. Patient. Dukes defenceman Declan Carlisle expertly slid the puck across the blueline into Uens’s wheelhouse. One-timer. An unstoppable bullet top corner.
Uens kept his cool, skating back to the bench. That’s the code for young athletes. Aloof. Blank. But as he took his seat, newly acquired defenceman Geoff Lawson reached over to pat the youngster on the helmet. Both player’s faces erupted in big, broad smiles.
For a moment, Uens was allowed to enjoy his lovely goal—as a 16-year-old should.
Why should this matter?
For a couple of reasons: first Dukes fans—and scribes—must remember these are kids for the most part. Especially on this team.
Perhaps more importantly, the Dukes team this season is still in search of an identity. There is at times a lack of cohesiveness—of a shared pursuit. The Dukes possess a lot of skill—really exciting young talent, combined with a mix of veterans, most of whom, with some exceptions, have never played together before.
But what Lawson’s gesture showed was a leader—eager to applaud his teammate’s success. It is in these moments that team character is built. Bit by bit. When individual accomplishments only have meaning when it is the team’s achievement.
DUKES 0 – WHITBY 0
Goaltenders can be odd creatures. Whitby’s Nate McDonald stops about 92 per cent of the shots he faces. He allows about 3.2 goals per game he plays. These are less than average statistics. It’s why McDonald’s name languishes near the bottom of the league’s ranking tables.
Yet. Nate McDonald has three shutouts. Tied for second. (The Dukes’ Jonah Capriotti is ranked number one with four). Some nights McDonald allows seven. Sometimes three. Sometimes not a single puck is getting past this netminder. If he find consistency, McDonald would be a top-ranked netminder.
Such was a night for MacDonald on Friday as the Dukes pelted the Whitby netminder with 46 shots through three periods and two overtime periods. In fairness, Whitby’s skaters play a solid defensive game—ably keeping shooters to the outside.
And the Dukes have had better nights around the opponent’s goaltender. It also seemed an imperfect night to radically reorder the lines. Perhaps there is no perfect time.
Yet it was an exciting game with solid chances to score at both ends of the ice.
And Capriotti? He was solid. The Dukes’ transition game remains a work in progress. They are giving up more odd-man chances—against more skillful teams, this weakness will prove costly.
But for now, Capriotti is holding the fort.
DUKES 9 – LINDSAY 0
The Lindsay Muskies appear to be in the wrong league. A line and a half of some good talent, most of whom are doing their own thing. Filled in with some beer-leaguebound journeymen seemingly happy for the ice time. No structure. No real plan. The team’s road jerseys are tattered and don’t seem to have been laundered since Cole Murduff patrolled the blueline.
There is no fire. No heat.
So it was that the Dukes skated out to a two-goal lead in the first period. Andrew Rinaldi with the first of two and Teddy McGeen scoring on a line with McCrory and Eric Uba. The Muskies had no response. The rout was on.
The Dukes went on to score seven more goals. Capriotte turned away the 26 shots he faced. His second shut out in two games.
Not the best hockey spectacle. But two points.
UP NEXT: NEWMARKET AND AURORA
The Dukes face the stingiest defence in the league on Friday night when they host the Newmarket Hurricanes. The Canes sit atop the North Division standings largely on the strength of netminder Nick Fraser, who comes into Wellington with a 1.86 goalsagainst average—good enough for second overall in the OJHL. Newmarket has allowed just 39 goals in 19 games, the fewest in the league.
The Dukes will be wearing special jerseys on Friday in support of the Wounded Warriors of Canada project.
On Saturday, the Dukes head to Aurora to face the Tigers. In two previous meetings this season the Dukes came away with wins. But Aurora has the ability to score in bunches.