Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte
No matter the time of year, it’s never too early to get a taste of winning as far as Wellington Dukes head coach and general manager Derek Smith is concerned.
As the Dukes continue to prepare for the 2022-23 Ontario Junior Hockey League season, one of their entries won the TEP Tournament at the Ford Performance Centre in Etobicoke from June 23 to 26.
Wellington’s two entries featured both returning players and prospects for the upcoming season. Players who experienced an early playoff exit from the two-game sweep against the Cobourg Cougars in the short best-of-three match-up are hungry to bounce back while an abundance of players are looking to find a place in the Dukes lineup.
“The season ended on a Monday night in Cobourg and a couple days later we had our exit meetings and it was time to start building for the next season,” Smith said. “The game’s changed so much in the last couple years and you’re always recruiting. You’re always thinking about the season you’re in, but you’re always planning for the season ahead, too. Luckily we did a lot of recruiting throughout the season because I think we’re in a pretty good spot. We always want to get better, but for June we’re pretty happy with where we’re at.”
Smith said the Dukes came a long away as a hockey club this past season and despite the abrupt end to the year, everyone is ready to bounce back.
“The guys that are coming back and want to come back, they’ve put a lot of work in the last few months to make sure the team doesn’t end up in the same spot as we did last year with a first round exit, but also it is junior hockey and they’re trying to make themselves be as good as they can and develop as much as they can over the summer,” he remarked. “They can help us win, but also push for spots at the next level and that’s what we’re for…to get the most out of the kids and move them on to the next level.”
Dukes (team white) went undefeated in eight games at the TEP Tournament, including a 1-0 overtime win over North American Screaming Eagle in the final.
Members of the team were Jacob Vreugdenhil, Ethan Quick, Jacob Dietz, Erik MacNeil as well as Brady Spry, Jacob Osbourne, Ben Smith, Nate Burrell, Jared Woolley, Owen England, Cole Lavender, Thomas Elkins, Jared Langdon, Graeme MacAuley, Thomas Kuipers, Joey Coates, Mitchell Dmytrow, Beau Reade, Nate Woods, Michael Patrick and Ethan Walker.
“It was a lot of hockey in a short period of time. They brought it every shift and they showed why they’re good hockey players and they’ve proven that they’re winners now,” Smith said. “It’s just a summer tournament, but winning is pretty special and they showed that they really wanted it and it showed in the results.”
Welington Dukes (team blue) also had a strong showing, going 4-1 in five at the tournament. Team members were Will Mitchell, Cole McGuire, Corbin Roach, Alex Case, Nolan Lane, Dean Spry, Luke Johnston, Jack Treacy, Justin Murdoch, Zander Latreille, Will Poot, Deacon Ellis, Rylan Reid, Carter McKee, Liam Phillip, Gage Butcher, Wyatt Gregory, Luke Jarmin, Ty McCambridge, Ben Vreugdenhil and Keenan Wiles.
A number of the players were seen at the Dukes’ Identification Camp at the end of May. There was a strong turnout there with enough prospects to fill six teams.
“There’s a lot of competition, a lot of good hockey players and we’re fortunate in Wellington that there’s a lot of guys that want to play for us and they showed it in the camp and they definitely showed it at TEP,” Smith said, noting the players on both TEP teams impressed in Etobicoke.
“It was a good eye-opener for us as an organization to know that there’s so many good local players whether they’re from the Quinte area or just scattered around Ontario that are closer to playing at the tier-two level than maybe we thought.
“It still is a summertime tournament, but a lot of guys are on the radar now that might not have been going into the tournament and there’s going to be a lot of competition at camp (in August).”
Smith wants to see a battle for roster spots and said recent years have proven jobs are available with Dukes for those players prepared to earn them.
“Will Mitchell as a 16-year-old last year came to camp and truthfully he wasn’t even on the bubble, but he came there and he pushed and he pushed. He knocked guys out that we thought were going to on our team,” Smith said. “A couple years before that we had Ben Addison. We had seven defencemen signed, he came to camp, told us how bad he wanted to be a Duke and he earned it and ended up being our captain two years later.
“We’re always going to have room for guys that come and earn their way onto the team because those are the type of guys that you want with their character and leadership and ability to battle through adversity.”
Wellington recently acquired 19-year-old forward Edward Moskowitz from the CCHL’s Rockland Nationals in exchange for Cameron Snow and a player development fee. He’s a player the Dukes have had an eye on since he competed for the Don Mills Flyers at the OHL Cup in 2019.
“He’s going to be a guy that’s going to come in and complement some of our top guys very well,” Smith said. “He works extremely hard, he’s a good skater, he’s a big body, he makes plays well in traffic. We’re going to rely on him a lot to play some pretty meaningful and high minutes for us. We have big plans for him and we’re excited for him to be part of the Dukes.”
Fans of the Wellington Dukes will have a chance to get their Season Tickets on Saturday, July 9.
The ticket drive will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Lehigh Arena with debit, credit and cash or cheque available as payment options.
Check out wellingtondukes.pointstreaksites.com