Hard to get ahead
A pair of wins in three games on the road fail to move the Dukes up in the standings
The Dukes continue their extended road trip this week with a visit to Divisionleading Trenton. With just five games remaining in Wellington’s regular season schedule, there isn’t much room to improve the team’s standings. The Dukes can finish no better than fourth place in the East Division— and no higher than fifth in the North East conference ranks.
The downside risk remains ominously present, however. The Dukes need to win the majority of their five games—or risk watching Stouffville and possibly Newmarket overtake them. It is not clear yet who will be at the top of the conference ranks—but generally, the lower seeded teams face tougher opponents.
That said, the North Division has been considerably weaker this season. The top-ranked North team, currently the Markham Royals, is just a single point ahead of the Dukes, who are currently ranked last in the East. If the Royals hang onto their number one spot, Markham will be seeded second, among the eight teams heading into the post season.
That means the number seven spot—currently held by Stouffville—may, on paper, seem like a better spot than the Dukes’ current higher ranking. But that is on paper. Meaningless for a team eager to battle for every point, every loose puck. You can’t think about standings. Focus on the game—the rankings will work themselves out.
WELLINGTON 4-KINGSTON 3 OT
Last Thursday, the Dukes travelled to Kingston to play before a sparse crowd of Voyageurs faithful. It wasn’t a stellar game. Wellington was the better team from the opening whistle, but too many self-inflicted wounds sent the game into overtime where the Dukes’ Brayden Stortz and Nic Mucci settled the matter 32 seconds into the extra frame.
Very early in the game, a routine pass back to the defencemen went astray in the neutral zone. The Dukes retreated to clean up the mess, but couldn’t recover the puck from the speedy Kingston forwards. Then a shot emerged from the corner only to be redirected by a Dukes’ defender’s stick, sliding the puck atwixt the feet of Connor Ryckman. It was that kind of game.
Mucci tied the game shortly afterward, finishing an inspired rush by Colin Doyle.
Early in the second, the Dukes were gifted with a two-man advantage as Kingston was tagged for interference and too-many-men-on-the-ice on the same call. It took a good chunk of the power play, but eventually, Mucci found Stortz on the far side. Simple one-time. The Dukes had the lead and the momentum. Then it evaporated.
Not a moment later, Kingston scored to tie the game. But it wasn’t long before Jackson Arcan— from Mucci and Doyle—restored the Dukes’ lead late in the period.
It looked like this lead might hold. But then, Dukes forward Mitch Mendonca took a tough penalty—his feet not moving, he needed his stick to slow down the puck carrier who had just picked his pocket. Kingston scored on the power play. In overtime, Stortz scored to seal a win that should have been settled a vital point sooner.
The Dukes went into the game two points behind the Voyageurs. A regular-time win would have drawn them even.
But the overtime win—better than the alternative— meant the Dukes would continue to trail Kingston.
What it means precisely—if anything— won’t be known for another week or two.
MARKHAM 6 – WELLINGTON 2
On Friday night, Kyle Prendel opened up the scoring in a wild second period—his fourth of the season—spotting the Dukes a one-goal lead. But moments later, Markham scored the first of four unanswered goals—three of these goals coming in just over two minutes near the end of the game. That is when Dukes netminder Victor-Olivier Courchesne lost his mind.
The young netminder felt he was being interfered with and his complaints ignored by the referees. So when the fourth goal of the period slipped past him—he took it out on the referee. Courchesne was assessed a major penalty— physical abuse of an official—earning his team a five-minute penalty and suspension for himself of at least seven games.
An already chippy game became more so. And more disheartening.
Shortly after the Dukes managed to kill Courchesne’s penalty in the third, Wellington went on the power play. Markham scored. Shorthanded. This game couldn’t end soon enough.
Mucci tallied late in the game from Evan Foley and Stortz. But the Royals had a response of their own, scoring with just 12 seconds remaining in the game—by which time the penalty boxes were filled with irritable teenagers.
The game—and the bitterness it fomented— sets up an interesting potential first round match up in the playoffs. But that’s still weeks and several theoretical possibilities away.
WELLINGTON 5 – AURORA 1
On Sunday, the Dukes headed back out onto the 401 to visit the Aurora Tigers in front of mostly empty yellow benches.
The Dukes gave up an early goal—but then erupted for five unanswered goals in the first period. Milne. Prendel. Mendonca. Gunski and Bean. There were no other highlights or distinguishing aspects of this game. Just two points on the road.
UP NEXT: TRENTON AND LINDSAY
On Friday, the Dukes head to Trenton for the last time in the regular season. The Golden Hawks have lost just one game in the six they’ve played since beating the Dukes 6-3 in Wellington on January 20.
On Sunday the Dukes return home to host the Lindsay Muskies in an afternoon match. The Muskies have won just a single game since being defeated by the Dukes on January 24. The Muskies cling precariously to their playoff hopes. But to do so, Lindsay needs Newmarket to lose nearly all of its remaining seven games. The Muskies also need to win every game the team has left. The Dukes will have a say on that matter.
BEST IN JANUARY
Brayden Stortz has been named Long Reach Towels Offensive Player of the Month as well as the Bardown North-East Conference player of the month of January. The Welland, Ontario native had 20 points in 12 games, having recorded at least one point in all but one game. He had three game-winning goals in the month and was named OJHL North-East Conference Player of the Month for September. Stortz is looking to secure a placement with an NCAA or CIS school in the fall.
Carter Allen has been named the Duke of Wellington Defensive Player for January. The Lambton Shores, Ontario native played his usual rock-solid stay-at-home position while putting up some important points during the month. Included among his five points was a game-tying goal in a comeback win over the Newmarket Hurricanes, an assist on the insurance goal over the Aurora Tigers and another assist on the game-winner over the Kingston Voyageurs. Now in his second season with the Dukes, he is also looking to secure an NCAA or CIS school placement in September.