Short-handed Dukes send a message to the league’s best
It is hard to discern this from the scoreboard, but this may have been the Wellington Dukes’ most important couple of weeks in its march toward an OJHL championship in the spring. There are many conditions that must be applied to this statement, but in these past few weeks Dukes fans have witnessed the depth of grit and determination that is the marrow of this team—essential ingredients necessary to compete in March and April.
And still so young. Isaac Langdon is just 15. So is Ethan Cardwell. Both taking semi-regular shifts in place of 19- and 20- year-olds. A length of career in the OJHL spanning their ages. Daniel Panetta is just 16. So is Zach Uens. Eric Uba turned 17 this week. Graeme McCrory. Nelson Powers. Declan Carlile. Each of them just 17.
The Wellington Dukes needed to know what they were made of. It is hard to know, when you see less than seven or eight minutes of ice time in a game. But with as many as five of the team’s top performer’s out of the lineup over the last two weeks, it was time to find out.
These young warriors—guided by the exceptional play of Andrew Rinaldi, Mitchell Martan, Dawson Ellis, Noah Lugli, Keegan Ferguson and Jonah Capriotti—gave battle to the mighty and the ordinary. Fiercely. Tenaciously. Relentlessly.
These were four games that might have been disasters. Captain Colin Doyle, forward Ben Evans and defender Mason Snell were skating for Team Canada East in Truro. Teddy McGeen was banged up and out of the lineup. Martan is battling the flu and missed Friday’s game.
Five of the team’s best. Out.
The Dukes, however, emerged with a win and a point from an overtime loss in Buffalo. Three points of eight over four games with a depleted lineup. Not a disaster. More importantly, they competed in every one of these games. Putting a fright into Oakville. And Toronto Patriots. Two of the best teams in the league. A bounce here or there and the Dukes might have stolen one or both of these games.
They did so the old fashioned way—simple hard work.
These young warriors swarmed the league’s best, chasing them up and down the ice. Finishing checks. Never letting opponents get settled. Keeping them off balance.
And in the midst of this, Rinaldi danced around the rink with the puck as though no one could touch him. Hard nosed. Carving. Pushing. Ultimate determination.
To Panetta. Goal. To Uba. Goal. To Ferguson. Goal. Short-handed. Full strength. Empty netter. Rinaldi had something to prove these past couple of weeks. Rinaldi earned six points in the four games as the Dukes have endured a massive hole in their lineup. Well earned.
In March, fans will look back upon these past few weeks, as the point they understood their team—healthy and united—may well be unstoppable.
TORONTO 3 – WELLINGTON 1
The Dukes continue to take far too many penalties. On Friday they gave the winningest team in the league—armed with the most lethal snipers—seven power play opportunities. Seven times less a player from a depleted and exhausted bench. It remains a mystery why this team—with such a powerful work ethic—chooses to stack the deck against themselves. Repeatedly.
The only good thing—and fans have to dig deep to acknowledge this—is that it enables the Dukes to hone their defensive and penalty killing skills. These moments also serve to remind fans what a truly remarkable netminder Capriotti has become in the Dukes net.
He was called upon regularly in the first and second period on Friday as the Toronto Patriots outshot the Dukes 26- 11. But this imbalance wasn’t reflected in territorial play. The game moved up and down the ice. Toronto was never allowed the time to move the puck they way they are accustomed.
Late in the first, Toronto tallied to take the lead. Early in the second, they beat Capriotti another time. The home team might have wilted, resigned to their fate. Instead they kept working. Kept grinding.
Rinaldi was taking charge. Whenever he touched the puck, Rinaldi skillfully navigated his way into the Toronto zone. Even short-handed, Rinaldi controlled the puck, chewing up time, weaving through traffic, pushing past defenders, drawing opponents to him—giving time and space to his line mates.
Pass to Daniel Panetta. Goal. The Dukes were on the attack. With all the momentum. But they couldn’t get another goal. Good chances. Near misses. Cross bar. But nothing.
Midway through the final period, the Toronto defenceman hit the top corner with a wrist shot through traffic to extend his team’s lead. Still the Dukes weren’t done.
Toronto had the 3-1 lead, but the Dukes were pressing. Hard. Tough, aggressive forechecking. They were getting under Toronto’s skin. After one skirmish—two Patriots sent to the penalty box. Two-man advantage. With just under three minutes left in regulation time to tie it up.
Face-off in the Toronto zone. The Dukes put a forward on the point, in place of a defenceman. Puck got by him. Toronto on a break. Something of a chase. Stick in the feet. Penalty Dukes.
A two-man advantage was snuffed out before it could begin.
That was it. There was nothing left to give.
But with five of their best players out of the lineup, the Dukes kept the best team in the OJHL within striking distance. This will matter in the spring.
BUFFALO 3-DUKES 2 2OT
On Sunday, the Dukes played a lesser team, the Buffalo Junior Sabres, on the road, though still without Doyle, Evans, McGeen and Snell. Rinaldi once again shone in this game—setting up both Wellington goals. The Dukes badly outshot Buffalo, eventually sending the game to overtime. The Junior Sabres scored the winner with just over 90 seconds to go in the second overtime period. It was a point. Well earned.
UP NEXT: NEWMARKET AND THE ALUMNI GAME
On Friday the Dukes host the Newmarket Hurricanes, currently sitting atop the North Division. The Hurricanes have had a bit of a chaotic season, winning big over powerhouse teams like Oakville, losing to lesser teams including Lindsay.
They have a good netminder—Kirk Fraser boasts a 2.02 goals against average. They have a lot of firepower in their top line.
But the Dukes will have Doyle, Evans and Snell back in the lineup. McGeen’s return date is less clear.
Friday’s game offers an opportunity for Dukes fans to give their team a warm-hearted sendoff into the Christmas break.
There will, however, be yet one more opportunity to see your team in action as the Dukes face off against Dukes of years past. Wellington welcomes home former Dukes players this weekend with an exhibition game on Saturday morning. Come out and see some of your favourite players from past seasons take on the young Dukes.
Admission to this game is just $2 plus a non-perishable food item or a toy.
Jacob Panetta, Brody Morris, Tyler Rivers, Ron Cordes, Ian Maracle, Andy Boyce, Jacob Hetherington, Justin Bean, Wil Healey, Derek Smith, Mike Konieczny, Jordan Freeland, Ryan Woodward, Warren Cooper, Tod Lavender, Chris Brown, Jeremy Franklin, Chris Ayotte, Kyle Hawkins-Schulz, Abbott Girduckis, Nic Mucci, Ben Sokay, Mark Campbell, Brandon Dafoe, Dave Campbell, Shaw Boomhower, Brian Bunnett, Joe McKeown, Sean Edwards, Tyler Longo, Brandon Harker, Rob Smith and Steve Cooke.