Late goal lifts Dukes to win over Huskies in defensive battle

(Goaltender Ethan Morrow earned another win for the Wellington Dukes on Sunday and will be expected to carry the load for OJHL club into the new year. Photo by Ed McPherson/OJHL Images)

Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte

Sunday’s win for the Wellington Dukes was one head coach Derek Smith considers to be a big building block as the season progresses.

Harrison Ballard scored with 39 seconds left in regulation time to lift the Dukes to a 2-1 victory over the visiting Haliburton County Huskies in the Ontario Junior Hockey League game at Lehigh Arena.

“There weren’t a lot of shots and chances from either team and it was tight-checking out there,” Smith said. “It was a physical game and for the end of November it kind of felt like a playoff game. It was good for our guys to be able to learn how to battle through that. I’m definitely happy with the guys and the resiliency they showed and the work ethic and the will to compete for 60 minutes.”

Mason Reeves opened the scoring for Wellington 20 seconds into the second period with his first OJHL goal. The middle frame, Smith suggests, was arguably the Dukes best period of the season in all three zones.

Wellington limited the Huskies to just one shot in the second and it was the lone blemish for goaltender Ethan Morrow, who otherwise made 18 saves in the win, as Oliver Tarr scored at the 17:19 mark to even things up at one goal apiece. Tarr leads the Huskies with 21 goals in 22 games.

Leading up his team-leading fourth game-winning goal, Ballard forced a turnover behind the Haliburton net and got the puck out front to Emmet Pierce who got a shot off before David Campbell collected the rebound and got the puck back to Ballard to put it past goaltender Christian Cicigoi.

Morrow improved his record to 6-3-0 with a 2.66 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. He’ll be expected to carry the load for the Dukes in December after Matt Dunsmoor was injured during Friday night’s game in Lindsay.

Smith said Dunsmoor is considered week-to-week, though isn’t expected back until early in the new year and the club will lean on the 17-year-old Morrow in his absence as they did Sunday.

“I thought our team was really good defensively and took away a lot of second chances, but Mo made the saves that he’s supposed to make and he definitely kept us in it there early in the game and early in the third when we gave up a couple chances,” Smith said. “This is going to be a good opportunity for him to run with it. Obviously with Dunny being out, Mo’s going to get as many minutes as he can and we’re going to need him to keep getting better and if he plays like he did tonight then we’ll be in good shape and he’ll give us a chance to win.”

Wellington is entrenched in a tough battle in the OJHL’s East Division with the Trenton Golden Hawks (17-3-0-2) leading the way with 36 points following a 5-2 victory over the Lindsay Muskies on Sunday evening.

The other four teams in the East are separated by just three points. The Huskies (12-8-1-1), which have a game in hand, and Dukes (12-9-0-2) are tied with 26 points, followed by the Muskies (11-12-0-3) with 25 and the Cobourg Cougars (10-8-1-2) with 23.

Nine teams, including the five from the East, are in strong contention for eight playoff spots in the South-East Conference come the end of the regular season in early March.

The top four teams in the South Division are the North York Rangers with 35 points, Toronto Jr. Canadiens with 33, St. Michael’s Buzzers with 31 and Toronto Patriots with 21.

“The way the schedule is this year with us not playing any of the teams in the North or the West, every game in our division is a four-point game,” Smith said. “With us playing the other four teams in the division eight times, you might be a couple points behind but in a weekend if you’re playing division teams, you can make some big leaps in the standings.

“All five teams are very competitive. Obviously Trenton got out to a good start (with nine straight wins), but I think that all of us are happy with some of the games and the way things are going and we all need to get better as well. It’s going to be a tight race going down to the end of the season. We have nine games before Christmas so we really have to buckle down here and keep on the right path.”

Wellington will host the Jr. Canadiens this Thursday night, 7:30 p.m. at Lehigh Arena.

After travelling to Toronto on Saturday evening to face the Patriots, the Dukes will return home again Sunday afternoon at 2:30 to take on the Muskies.