Dukes looking to parlay outstanding season into big playoff run

March 17, 2024

By Brock Ormond/ Wellington Dukes

Photo: /OJHL Images

A tumultuous offseason turned into a positive 56-game OJHL season for the Wellington Dukes – and hopefully a fulfilling Buckland Cup playoff run.

In his first year behind the bench after a couple decades behind BCHL benches, Kent Lewis helped lead his new club to 35 wins and a third-place finish in the East Conference.

Following a ‘very unique’ offseason that included the near-complete overhaul of a roster that went to the conference final in 2022-23, and a start of the season which saw them only have the minimum number of players on the roster, Lewis said his first OJHL season was a lot of fun.

“I was fortunate to be given an opportunity by ownership to come in and basically do what I thought was best and their support was the reason why we’re here. We assembled a great staff. The buy in by the kids has been tremendous,” he stated in an interview this week.

Following the last game of the regular season, captain Dimitri Tzaferis said echoed his coach in saying it was a whirlwind season, but a satisfying one.

“We started off with one player this year and it’s just unbelievable how far we’ve come as a team,” he stated.

“We’ve got a great group of guys, we work hard every day and we’re looking to win this whole thing.”

The captain’s outstanding final season of junior hockey (13 goals and 40 points from the backend), along with a breakthrough season by 19-year-old Cory Jewitt (30 goals, 67 points in his rookie Junior A season) and 26 goals and 57 points from Connor Hunt, the only initial returning player from 2022-23, were just a few of the outstanding performances from the Dukes this season.

Goaltenders Jack Lisson and Shane Shelest were both rock steady in net, with Lisson’s 17 wins tying him for second among rookie goalies.

That has all led to a first-round matchup with a team loaded with offensive talent in the 6th place Toronto Jr. Canadiens.

Though he knew how tight the standings were, Lewis admitted that his team’s opponent was not at the top of his mind, as they would have to face a good team no matter what.

“I never thought about anybody else, I couldn’t really care less to be honest. Our process was the only thing that mattered,” the coach emphasized.

JRC got the better of things in the regular season winning 4-3 in OT, 2-1 and 5-2 while the Dukes won their second meeting 5-3.

With the slate clean and a new opportunity in front of them, Lewis said his team will need to be better against a very talented club.

“We have to come into this ready to be at our very best because it’s going to be a very difficult series. There’s a lot of skill there.”

He reiterated the determined work ethic that has been the basis of his team’s identity this season will have to be at the forefront in what he said could be the toughest series in the postseason.

“One thing I will tell you about our group is it’s not going to get outworked,” he said. “We’re going to we’re going to be ready and this is going to be as difficult to test is any round.”

When it comes to the fans, Lewis simply said ‘thank you’ for all the support this season and requested they ‘bring some friends’ and shake the maple syrup cans loud and proud.

Check out the Dukes website and social media channels for the series schedule, which begins Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Duke Dome.