East Division leaders clear house over the holidays
That was some kind of Christmas break. The number one team in the East Division returned to find their entire coaching staff had been jettisoned. Ryan Woodward, just months into an odd role as general manager and associate coach, was gone. So was Kyle Hawkins- Schulz as assistant coach. Both had been Dukes players in years past. Head coach Scott McCrory was out, though he will stay on as a strategic advisor. Ryan Kitchen was gone too.
It is unclear what happened in Dukeland over the Christmas break. Communication was terrible. Rumour. Speculation. Innuendo. All of it a swirling blizzard around the village. A wrong report on a Belleville radio station. Finally, a statement from the team. Then another. But few answers explaining the basis for the sweeping changes.
Here is what we know. John Druce is the new head coach—fresh from a championship season with Cobourg. The former Washington Capital forward is perhaps best known for emerging in the 1989-90 playoffs scoring 14 goals leading his team to their first-ever conference final. After coaching the Cobourg Cougars to a RBC championship last June, he was replaced last October by Jerome Dupont.
Druce is joined on the bench by former Duke defenceman Derek Smith as assistant coach. After three seasons with the NCAA’s Lake Superior Lakers, Smith played 10 years of professional hockey including stints in which he played 94 games in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames.
Druce is also joined by Mike Farrugia, an instructor at Power Edge Pro, a high-end hockey development program aimed at improving performance at all levels of the game.
The Dukes returned to competition after just a couple practices with the new bench crew. Over the first couple of games—both wins—Druce et al were content to roll four set lines, assessing talent, work ethic and game play on the fly. Learning by watching.
The OJHL deadline passes today. It remains unclear if the new coaching staff will have had enough time to evaluate either the needs, the availability or opportunities in time for a deal to be put together.
Still, the Dukes managed another two wins. Not the most energetic, or persuasive victories this season—but four points. A good start to the new year. Even if a bit bewildering.
DUKES 4 – TRENTON 3
The Golden Hawks give off the aroma on Friday of a team that had already packed in the regular season. Old, disengaged, sluggish and irritable. Nine players on this team are 20 already. Five more will be before the season is finished. A couple of seventeen-year-olds. No one younger than that.
They may come around in the playoffs—perhaps create some havoc in the first round. Perhaps not.
But for now, this is a team going through the motions. Yet, they managed to wrestle the Dukes to a 4-4 tie after three periods. In Wellington.
The Golden Hawks got on the scoreboard first—a long shot through traffic. A power play allowed Anthony Rinaldi and Mitch Martan to employ their exceptional puck moving skills—freeing up Jackson Arcan in front of the net. Redirect. Goal. Seven seconds with the extra attacker and the game was tied.
Then it was Trenton’s turn to score a power play goal. The period ended with the Golden Hawks owning a 2-1 lead. They had managed just seven shots in the period.
The second period started better for the hometown Dukes. Ben Evans took control of the puck in the neutral zone as only he can, and bulled his way into the Trenton zone, gathering a crowd along the way. Over to Geoff Lawson on the far point. Shot. Lovely goal.
Seconds later Rinaldi was sent to the box for tripping—one of five penalties (three tripping) assessed to the Dukes in the game. Captain Colin Doyle on the penalty kill, forced a turnover and skated the puck deep into the Trenton zone on a partial break. Shot. Stopped. Doyle gathered up his own rebound, circled around the net and deposited the puck into the empty chasm. A shorthanded work of pure diligence.
It should have been enough. The Golden Hawks could only muster another eight shots in the second. But one of those found the net behind Jonah Capriotti. The matter was tied again.
Early in the third, Rinaldi and Martan combined again to restore the Dukes’ lead. But they couldn’t widen the gap. Mid-way through the final period, Trenton scored its fourth goal. Tie game.
In overtime, Dawson Ellis forced the turnover in the neutral zone. To Evans, who looked like he might head to the net. Instead, he dropped puck back to Declan Carlile on the point. Carlile took two strides. Shot. Top corner. Far side.
A sigh of relief was exhaled throughout the Wellington rink.
DUKES 7 – LINDSAY 3
The Dukes had to be wary coming into this game on Sunday. The Lindsay Muskies, despite the second worst record in the OJHL, had beaten Wellington in the last game of 2017.
It was slow and tentative start for both teams. Disappointingly the Dukes continued to rack up penalties. Martan leaving his team short-handed three times in the game.
By the end of two periods the Dukes led, but just by a goal. 3-2. Carlile. Uba. Powers. The Dukes were leaning heavily on their capable and energetic third and fourth lines. But in the third, the Dukes found another gear, their best players showed up to play. Rinaldi. Capriotti stoned the Muskie sniper on a penalty shot. Martan from Rinaldi. Doyle from Evans. It felt like the mercy rule might be invoked.
Then Lindsay scored again. One line had done all the scoring for the Muskies. It was a sour way to end this game.
Not quite as sour, however, as Dukes forward Mitchell Mendonca earning a four-minute spearing penalty— after the game was over.
UP NEXT: COBOURG AND ORANGEVILLE
On Friday night in Wellington, Dukes coach John Druce will face the team that dumped him after he led them to the RBC Championship last spring. Cobourg visits the County tied for second place in the East division along with the Kingston Voyageurs. They are winners of four of their last five games.
On Sunday, the Dukes travel to Orangeville for their only meeting this season with the middle-of-the-pack West Division team. The Flyers have—at least until Wednesday—the highest scoring defenceman in the league, Lambert Hudson, patrolling the blueline.
Forward Teddy McGeen failed to return to the Dukes lineup after the holiday break, still working through an upper body injury. The speedy winger has missed eight games. McGeen was the team’s leading point-getter when he was sidelined due to injury. Dukes fans are eagerly awaiting his return.