Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte
Defenceman Jonathan Balah has been an integral part of the Wellington Dukes lineup this season.
In fact, the Ontario Junior Hockey League has taken notice as well.
Balah, who is 20-years-old and in his final season, was named an OJHL all-star. The league announced it would honour players who were selected to participate in the OJHL All-Star Celebration that was scheduled for mid-January in Collingwood, but was cancelled due to provincial COVID-19 restrictions.
“It was awesome to see my play this year is being recognized,” said Balah, who was the only Dukes player selected as a representative of the South East team for the All-Star team. “I feel bad because I think that we have a ton of all-stars on our team that weren’t getting recognized, but it’s an honour to be recognized as one of the top in the league. I was really appreciative of that.”
Two more Dukes – Ethan Morrow and Corbin Roach – were selected for the InStat OJHL Prospects Game.
Players selected for both games will be honoured during pre-game ceremonies in their home arenas before regular season or playoff games, an OJHL release noted. Each player will receive a specially designed commemorative plaque with an OJHL individualized action image, supplied by OJHL Images, designed by Jostens Canada.
In 52 games so far this season, Balah is fourth in Dukes scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace with eight goals and 42 assists, but his importance is measured well beyond the scoresheet.
“Johnny has been a rock for us all season. The intensity and passion he brings to the rink every day is infectious to the team,” said Dukes head coach Derek Smith. “He plays big minutes, in all situations and is a huge reason for our team’s success this season.”
Balah, who is from Barrie, previously played in the CCHL during a brief stint with the Brockville Braves and also played with the Thorold Blackhawks of the GOJHL and the Aurora Tigers of the OJHL before finding a home in Wellington.
A big boost to his development has been playing for Smith, a former professional hockey defenceman including in the NHL, he said while also crediting assistant coach Tyler Longo who runs the defence for the Dukes during games.
Balah said he has the trust to play his style of game and is fortunate to be playing with some great teammates as well.
“I like to jump in the rush when I can, but I never want to sacrifice anything on the defensive end because defence wins championships,” he said. “I never want to put myself so far out of position that it could cost us the game. I like playing defence and playing for my goalies and my team.”
He feels fortunate to play in front of goaltenders like Matt Dunsmoor and Ethan Morrow.
“Having two really good goalies playing at their best level going into the playoffs, there’s not much more we could ask for,” he said.
Balah has aspirations to play NCAA Division 1 hockey. He has talked with some teams and is staying patient while continuing to hope for an opportunity to play at the next level
“I’m hoping that my play keeps evolving and teams keep noticing so that I can go play at the college level in the States,” he said.
Friday night, the Dukes will host the Trenton Golden Hawks in the final game of the Hasty P’s Cup. The Dukes currently trail the eight-game series by a point (due to an overtime loss) and need a win in regulation time to capture the Hasty P’s Cup.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. at Lehigh Arena in Wellington. The game also has implications towards the East Division standings. The Dukes (33-13-0-6) are in first place leading the Golden Hawks (34-15-0-2) by two points, though Trenton has a game in hand.
“Even when I wasn’t playing for Wellington, everybody knows of the Trenton-Wellington rivalry so just being able to play in it the intensity is through the roof and the fans are unbelievable at both arenas at the Dunc and at the Duke Dome,” Balah said.
Wellington has grown as a team throughout the season.
“We started off the season not in a typical Wellington fashion. Usually they come flying out of the gates,” Balah said. “We got off to a bit of a shaky start and added some key guys and we just grew together as a team. We got so close and started playing the game for the guy beside us and when the whole team is playing as one it’s really hard to stop us.”
The Wellington Dukes are holding a food drive during Friday night’s game.
Fans are encouraged to being a non-perishable food item or make a donation for the Storehouse foodbank. Donations will be matched dollar-or-dollar by Christine Rutter of Exit Realty.