Potential upset in the making as Dukes take two-game lead in playoff series with Whitby
The Wellington Dukes picked up on Friday where they had left off the night before in Whitby, where they had smothered the Fury with close checking, superb defence and timely scoring. The Dukes came home on Friday sporting a one-game lead in the best of seven series after shutting down the Whitby offence in a 3-0 win.
The Fury tried mightily to reset the universe. They hadn’t lost to the Dukes all season long. Indeed, this Whitby club had chased the East leaders all season long. They were heavily favoured to win this series. Game two provided the opportunity to show that Thursday’s loss was an aberration. A fluke.
But after twenty minutes, Whitby still hadn’t managed to solve Dukes’ netminder Conner Ryckman—not in four periods had they been able to put the puck past the Wellington goalie. Meanwhile, the Dukes were playing cautiously— sticking closely to the game plan.
The referees—largely silent in Whitby—were setting a different tone in Wellington, handing out penalties like clowns with candy in the Pumpkinfest parade. The Dukes spent much of the last half of the first period down a man as they were assessed back-to-back penalties. But the Dukes were equal to the task—escaping the frame without allowing a goal. But neither had they scored a goal. Patience. Part of the game plan.
Midway through the second frame, Austin Labelle was working hard, down low, along the wall, battling for the puck against a Whitby defender— every one of whom is six-foot or taller, tipping the scales in the 200 pound range. Labelle by contrast, is a toddler smaller. But in this tussle along the boards, it was Labelle assessed for boarding. A confusing judgement in a game where the object is to win the puck.
On the ensuing power play, ex-Duke Nic Coric set up a quick goal by linemate Ryan Taylor. The Fury had finally beaten Ryckman. Whitby rejoiced like it was Christmas. But it wasn’t long before— on a Dukes power play—that the puck emerged from scramble in front of the Whitby net back to blueliner Brody Morris. B Mo as he is affectionately referred by Dukes fans, let a shot rip through the melee, finding the back of the net.
Early in the third, fleet-footed Evan Foley picked up a loose puck in the Dukes zone and darted up ice, putting distance between him and the flat-footed Whitby forecheckers. Foley stepped across the blueline and fired. Mitchell Martan picked up the rebound, dished to Brayden Stortz and the Dukes had the lead for the first time in the game.
It might have stayed that way. But as the period wore on, the Dukes became a bit too complacent— a bit too casual. Lanes opened up. And suddenly the game was tied.
This match had to be settled in overtime. Both sides playing cautiously not wanting to make a mistake. But it happened anyway. Colin Doyle took a pass at the Fury blueline, with the defenceman squaring him up for a stiffening check. Doyle slid the puck to Nic Mucci just few feet to his right—forcing the Whitby defender to chase Mucci. Big mistake. Doyle headed to the net as Mucci put the puck on his stick. It might as well have been presented in a Tiffany gift box. Now, all alone, Doyle swooped across the goal crease, sliding the puck past the helpless Whitby netminder. The Dukes won 3-2 in overtime.
Action resumed on Tuesday night in Whitby. The series picks up on Thursday evening in Wellington and in Whitby on Friday—if needed.
ELSEWHERE IN THE EAST
Meanwhile, Trenton tied up their series against Newmarket on Monday night after falling 3-2 to the Hurricanes on Friday night. Cobourg appears to be making short work of the Voyageurs, leading that series 3-0. Cobourg could wrap up that series on Thursday in Kingston.
In another potential upset, the Stouffville Spirit lead the North Division champs, the Markham Royals, 2-0 as of Tuesday morning. Stouffville and Markham were set to play game three on Tuesday night.
Rugged defenceman Hunter Gunski is fearless shot blocker helping to earn him defensive player of the month last month. But in Game 1 of the Whitby series, Gunski was hit in the face by a shot, fracturing his jaw. According to coach and GM Marty Abrams Gunski is currently awaiting surgery to repair the young man’s jaw.
Next year the OJHL begins making full cage face mask mandatory, just as they are in the NCAA.