Dukes Hockey

In tough

Posted: March 23, 2017 at 1:21 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Dukes searching for answers against Cobourg

It’s a tough road ahead. But nothing has come easy for the Wellington Dukes this season. This series is no different. Down two games to none against the Cobourg Cougars, hosts of the 2017 RBC Cup, the Dukes are facing a long journey back. No one—not the least of which is Cobourg—are counting Wellington out.

The Dukes deserved a better fate in game one in front of a large and appreciative crowd in Wellington on Friday night. The game got off to a good start when Carter Allen led the rush up the ice, dumping the puck deep. Brayden Stortz won the battle and fired a shot at net. Mitchell Martan, positioned at the goalmouth scooped up the rebound and scored.

The first hint of trouble came as the Cougars repeatedly penned the Dukes in their own zone. Wellington, backstopped by Connor Ryckman, defended ferociously, but could it hold up? Even on the power play it was difficult for the Dukes to maintain pressure in the Cobourg zone.

Then, seconds after the penalized Cobourg player, Spencer Roberts, returned to the ice, he scored. The game was tied. The Dukes, however, didn’t fold. Another team might have. But not this team.

Midway through the second period the Dukes worked another power play. Stortz battled fiercely down low, behind the Cougars net. An unrelenting terrier. He won the battle, passed the puck precisely onto Martan’s stick in the middle slot. The Dukes had the lead again. More importantly, they were winning the territorial game—pushing the bigger, lumbering Cougars back into their own end, forcing them to ice the puck for a moment’s breath.

Cobourg returned with a bit more desperation in the third period, but it was the Dukes who were playing smarter hockey. Simple stuff, really. Get the puck deep. Win the battle. Move it quickly to the forward in the slot. Late in the third, Hunter Gunski shot the puck deep. Colin Doyle dug it out of the melee in the corner, to Mitchell Mendonca lingering in the mid-slot. A well-calibrated wrist shot later and the Dukes had a 3-1 lead with just over five minutes left in the game.

But then came the worst minute in the Dukes season. With the Cobourg netminder on the bench in favour of an extra attacker, the Cougars controlled the Dukes zone. Wellington could not clear the puck, could not escape. A desperation lob to mid-ice, landed in the defenceman’s mitt at the blue line. A shot from the point. A high deflection. Goal.

Defenceman Carter Allan and netminder Connor Ryckman have anchored the Dukes’ back end throughout this season and into the playoffs.

Thirty seven seconds later. The exact same play. Shot from the point. Deflection. Goal. Suddenly three periods of hard work was erased. The game was going to overtime.

The first overtime period greatly favoured the Dukes—good chances and terrific pressure especially from Doyle’s line with Austin Labelle and Mendonca— though Ryckman was called upon more than once to retrieve Wellington from disaster. Nic Mucci, in a brilliant move, carved between two defenders with the puck, but was hauled down before he could get a shot away. The refs, however, weren’t handing out penalties for anything but the most egregious infraction. That would come.

By the fifth period the Dukes legs were weakening. Cobourg’s Spencer Roberts crashed the Dukes net. The refs could not ignore this one. But the Dukes were out of gas—barely a good scoring chance in the two minutes with a man advantage.

Then, the legs gave out. The Cobourg forwards chokehold grew tighter until three of them were hacking away at rebounds just outside the Ryckman’s blue paint. Until the puck was in the net.

The Dukes had done everything but win.

On Monday the Dukes travelled to Cobourg for game two. The Dukes went toe-to-toe with Cobourg through the first period—neither team mustering a goal, nor an abundance of shots. A tight defensive game. In the second period they traded powerplay goals—Colin Doyle scoring for Dukes.

But as the game wore on, Wellington’s legs were giving out again. By the third the Cougars were swarming the exhausted Dukes. Midway through, Cobourg’s Josh McGuire snapped the tie, giving his team the lead. A minute later Ryan Casselman tallied another for the Cougars. That was it.

The Dukes pulled Ryckman with just over two minutes left in the game— but there would be no last minute heroics sending this game into overtime.

So, the Dukes head back to Cobourg tonight for game three. Wellington knows how to beat the Cougars. They know, too, they have to do so tonight. The do not want to fall three games behind against a team that is very effective in wearing down its opponents.

Game four takes place in Wellington on Thursday evening. It all comes down to these two games. The best remedy for weary legs, of course, is an exuberant contingent of supporters cheering them along.