Dukes Hockey


Posted: January 26, 2017 at 9:14 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Future of OJHL’s top performer remains in limbo

It is astonishing that Brayden Stortz does not yet have a scholarship to an NCAA school. Perhaps that changes this week, as OJHL teams assemble in Trenton for a winter showcase tournament before scouts and recruiters from an array of leagues and programs. Stortz is a rare talent— and likely accustomed to being overlooked.

Stortz scored a natural hat trick—the first three Dukes’ goals in the game on Sunday—to extend his tally in the OJHL scoring race to 71 points. Stortz scored 100 points last year in the NOJHL. He is on pace to accumulate more than 90 points this season in the OJHL. Yet with the end of his junior career in sight, Stortz has no firm commitment yet as to where he will play next year.

Defenceman Brody Morris is swarmed behind the Dukes net as he works to freeze the puck on a penalty kill.

There are no other players who have come through Wellington this season who see the game better than Stortz. He knows where the puck is and the next decision his opponents will make. He has the hands and skill to weave through traffic—to slip through the tightest spots and emerge with the puck. Then he consistently does something clever with it—an unexpected shot, an inspired pass or simply a dump-in to allow for a clean line change.

Stortz is likely overlooked because he isn’t six feet tall or doesn’t tilt the scales at more than 200 pounds. But by now, the accomplishments of smaller players are legend. Johnny Gaudreau is 5-feet 9-inches and weighs just 157 pounds. Brad Marchand is no taller. Martin St. Louis 5-feet 8- inches. Danny Briere. Theo Fleury.

Height and weight aren’t insurmountable barriers to players with the hockey sense of players like Stortz—but recruiters and scouts tend to be careful folks. Perhaps too careful.

It is the game’s loss. Watching trees hammer away at each along the wall, endlessly grinding out the puck cycle game is dull viewing. It is not without its merit—but it is repelling folks who come to games to see skill, speed, creativity and innovation. If there is no more room for these attributes, hockey is in trouble.

The Dukes lost such a game on Friday. There is no one on the Trenton team with the talent of Stortz, Nic Mucci and Connor Ryckman. What Trenton does have are big players eager and willing to clog up the neutral zone and punish any puck carrier within crushing distance of the boards. To be clear, the Dukes were game. Grittily pushing back, absorbing the hits and getting under the skin of the visiting Golden Hawks.

But in this game of attrition, the laws of physics eventually prevail. Bigger tends to subdue the smaller. Skill and talent play a diminishing role. It becomes a game of endurance— a demolition derby with teenagers.

So it was that the game on Friday began well enough—the Dukes tying the game at two goals apiece (from Stortz and Colin Doyle) after falling behind in the first period. But then the grind began. The puck went no where. Up and down the wall.

Nothing. Then as the second period wore on, the Dukes began to flag. Trenton capitalized with three goals in short succession. Each team added a goal in the third, but the outcome had already been settled.

The Golden Hawks went home with a 6-3 win.

Sunday’s match against Lindsay was a different story altogether. Before the second period was three minutes old, Stortz had racked up a hat trick, giving the Dukes a 3- 1 lead. Wellington kept coming—scoring three more goals in the following four minutes. Mucci came within a goal post of scoring his own hat trick as the Dukes romped to an 8-3 win. The lead allowed the Dukes to give extra ice time to some players used sparingly in most games. Forward Evan Foley grabbed the opportunity, notching his third goal of the season. Victor-Olivier Courchesne was solid in the Dukes net.

The Dukes took on Aurora in the Winter Showcase Tournament on Tuesday night. For the Tigers, this game should be a good showcase for their talented forward Mel Melconion—but likely little else. It has been a woeful season for the once-proud Tigers. The only good news is that their season will be over in a few weeks.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Dukes face Kingston in Trenton—an odd assignment for these two rivals. The Voyageurs are have a slightly better season than the Dukes so far—but it has still left them second from the bottom of the East Division rankings. This is likely to be a spirited game between teams focused more on each other than their place in the standings.

On Friday, the Dukes welcome Stouffville back to Wellington. The Dukes and Spirit have split two previous games this season and leaving a 2- 2 game unsettled in October.

Then on Sunday, Wellington travels to North York to face the Rangers in the only match between these teams this season. The Dukes have not defeated a South Division team this season. Wellington will be looking to break this pattern on Sunday.