Dukes slip, barely visible, into a new season
While the OJHL season gets under way on Friday night, and the Dukes see action on Saturday in Burlington, Wellington fans must wait a full 10 days—until September 15—to see the 2017-18 squad for the first time in the regular season at home. Then the team heads out on the road again, not returning to Wellington until September 29. Just two home games in September.
It might be okay. It is a mostly new team, plenty of new faces from the goal on out. So, it may do this squad well to play off Broadway for a bit—to find their rhythm and patterns early and out of sight.
Or it could be a huge mistake—flounder out on the road and then return despondent to the Dukedome. Best not dwell on this possibility.
The Dukes signed a pair of 16-year-old western Ontario boys Eric Uba (Kitchener) and Jeff Burridge (London). Both spent a couple of days at the Flint, Michigan OHL training camp last week. Both scored in the Dukes’ preseason game against Kingston in Wellington.
“Eric is a dynamic forward with tremendous speed,” said Dukes general manager/associate coach Ryan Woodward. “He has an excellent release and high hockey IQ; we expect him to have an immediate impact on our group offensively.”
Woodward describes Burridge as a prototypical power-forward.
“He is a workhorse winger with size and speed,” said Woodward. “Jeff is strong along the wall, can score off the rush and plays a heavy 200-foot game. We are thrilled to welcome him and the Burridge family to Wellington.”
SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN
Last Thursday, the Dukes dropped a 6-5 decision to the visiting Cobourg Cougars. It was a game the Dukes might have won. Netminder Justin Vertesi has struggled so far in exhibition action. The Hamilton netminder is tall and comes to Wellington from the Ancaster Avalanche where he posted a 2.57 goals against average in 30 games in the Junior B GOJHL. He allowed five goals on 30 shots in Kingston six days earlier. On Thursday, starting against Cobourg, Vertesi allowed five more on just 19 shots. That was the difference in the game.
The Dukes mostly controlled the play and puck possession. But Cobourg capitalized with three power play goals. Cougar sniper Connor McEachern scored three.
Daniel Panetta opened the scoring finishing a fine play from Colin Doyle and Ted McGeen. But three tough goals later the Dukes were trailing. Returning defenceman Mac Warren laced the puck through traffic on the power play to draw within a goal. Forward Rory Milne tied the game late in the first. The Dukes, it seemed had weathered the storm and were back on an even keel.
Panetta scored early in the second giving the Dukes their second lead of the game. It didn’t last. Cobourg scored a pair of power play goals to regain the lead.
Still, the Dukes battled back. Early in the third, Nelson Powers tallied to lift Wellington back into a tie with the Cougars. But that was as close as they would come. Late in the third, the Dukes were pressing hard. The Cougars caught a break. Loose puck. Fast break. The puck was in the net. That was the game. It was the only goal 15-year-old Sam Dingle allowed, but he would wear the loss.
As the match wound down, bad blood that had been stirring since late in the first period, erupted in a series of skirmishes.
The game is on.