February 23, 2024

By Ron Valentine/ OJHL

Photo: Ed McPherson/OJHL Images

The Wellington Dukes will make the Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs this season.

That line could have been written for every season since the Dukes’ junior hockey debut 35 years ago when they merged with the Belleville Bobcats franchise and relocated to Wellington in what was then the Metro Junior Hockey League. That streak sets a Canadian Junior Hockey League record, as confirmed by the league this week.

Over the course of their 35 years the Dukes have recorded 847 wins, 49 ties,  313 regulation losses, 42 overtime losses and 33 shootout losses.

They have been Division champions nine times. The Dukes won the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, formerly vied for by the playoff champions of the OJHL, NOJHL (Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League) and  SIJHL (Superior International Junior Hockey League), three times, in 2003, 2011 and 2018.

The club hosted the tournament in 2014 when they lost in the final to the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots.

In 2018, the Dukes finished runners-up at the Royal Bank Cup (now known as the Centennial Cup) national championship tournament.

Marty Abrams, currently general manager and head coach with the Central Canada Hockey League’s Navan Grads, held those same positions with the Dukes for 16 seasons, from 1999-2000 to 2002-03 and from 2005-06 to 2016-17.

“Getting into the playoffs for 35 years is a tremendous accomplishment,” Abrams told the OJHL. “I was fortunate enough to be behind the bench as well as general manager for the Dukes for sixteen seasons. My wife and I made our home in Wellington and have some great memories of those times. Garry Lavender was responsible for much of the team’s success and his son,Tod, spent time behind the bench and along with a great working executive. The Lavender family, including Garry’s wife Dianne, have been responsible for much of the success the team has had through the years.”

“We had some great rivalries and battles with the Wexford Raiders (who became the Toronto Jr Canadiens in 2006) and the Aurora Tigers and then, when the Trenton Golden Hawks joined the loop in 2009, it was a natural and very heated rivalry with the clubs arenas being just 30 kilometers apart.”

“With around 1,700 people living in the village of Wellington itself there has always been terrific community involvement from the surrounding areas and the team has always received great support especially in the old ‘Dukedome’. Perhaps the only junior clubs in Canada that can be ranked at about the same size are Navan and Wilcox, Saskatchewan, home of the Notre Dame Hounds.”

“I still follow the team very closely.”

First-year Dukes Director of Hockey opps/head coach of the club Kent Lewis, who spent 16 seasons behind the bench of the BCHL’s Powell River Kings, added: “In joining the Dukes I was very much aware of their rich history. What I think makes this year special for our fans is the turmoil they faced this summer. I’m proud of our players’ work this

year and we look forward to the most special start of the year, the postseason.”

The 32-18-0-3 Dukes are tied for second place in the East this season. They visit the Lindsay Muskies tonight and host the Muskies Sunday afternoon.