Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte
Wellington Dukes defenceman Cole McGuire, now in his third season, was thrilled to score his first Ontario Junior Hockey League goal in late November.
It also provided a sense of relief.
“I was pretty snake-bitten to start the season,” McGuire says. “I’ve hit six posts this year which doesn’t really happen a lot for a defenceman.”
Scoring isn’t everything, of course, but McGuire is working on becoming a well-rounded defenceman with ambitions to earn an NCAA Div. 1 scholarship in the future. He just turned 20 last week and has one season of junior eligibility remaining beyond this current one.
Part of the development process involves playing meaningful games, which have been tough to come by the past two years. The Dukes 2020 playoff run ended prematurely when remaining games were cancelled and the club was limited to exhibition games last season.
So far this OJHL season, Wellington got 28 games in before more restrictions from the Ontario government forced the postponement of games in December through January. The Dukes are scheduled to return to action Friday, Feb. 4 in Toronto against the St. Michael’s Buzzers.
McGuire, a former OHL draft pick by the Soo Greyhounds, is ecstatic to resume is development through the junior A system once again.
“Honestly, it was a blessing in disguise (going the OJHL route). The Wellington Dukes have been everything for me as a hockey player,” McGuire said. “I want to achieve a Division 1 scholarship. I’m a good skater, I try to play physical and be consistent. Working on the offensive side of my game, as I get older and get better I’ll have more opportunities to be on the power play so I can really show how effective I am on both sides of the puck.”
The timing of the latest shutdown wasn’t ideal as the Dukes had won four straight games.
“We started to come together,” McGuire said. “It was good to put a bit of a streak together after kind of struggling at the beginning of the season.”
Wellington (16-10-0-2) sits third in the league’s East Division, which features strong competition from the Trenton Golden Hawks, Haliburton County Huskies, Cobourg Cougars and Lindsay Muskies. They’ve all made moves to bolster their rosters this season in an attempt to keep pace.
“Every single divisional game is super imperative to collect some points, but it’s very difficult,” McGuire said.
McGuire said the only benefit to the shutdown, perhaps, was helping teams get healthy. The Dukes in mid-December, for instance, were without forward Graham Dickerson, defenceman Jacob Dietz and goaltender Matt Dunsmoor.
“It’s been tough to keep the bodies healthy this year and I think that’s because of the condensed schedule,” McGuire said. “It seems like the healthiest team is going to win this year so we’re trying our best to take care of our bodies and be fully healthy for when it matters most.”
It’s possible not having a traditional season last year could play a role as players weren’t conditioned to playing a full season. Though it doesn’t replace game action, players did work hard during the summer to get in shape, McGuire noted. Fortunately the players also have great guidance with the Dukes.
“We have such a good training staff,” McGuire said. “Leah Toffelmire is extremely knowledgeable in the field of human kinetics and she’s been helping me a lot this year. It’s just about seeing her whenever you’re body is feeling a bit off.”
Toffelmire helped McGruire through a sprained thumb earlier this season. McGuire also enjoys working with athletic trainer Jeremy Benoit when possible as well.
On the ice, he’s certainly looking forward to having Dickerson, Dietz and Dunsmoor return to the Dukes lineup as the regular season continues and is now extended until April.
“They’re huge contributors to our success on the ice so having them back and healthy for this next stretch to April is going to be huge for our team,” McGuire said.
In minor hockey, McGuire played nine seasons for the Quinte Red Devils ‘AAA’ organization before making the jump to junior A with Pickering Panthers prior to being acquired by the Dukes.
The Red Devils have a new partnership with the Dukes this season. McGuire encourages any young players who want to make the jump to a higher level to do so, especially as they get older and have opportunities to be an affiliated player with the Dukes.
“It’s awesome. Growing up when I was in Quinte, I got the opportunity to AP with the Dukes and practice,” McGuire said. “It was a real eye-opener and I really recommend it to any kid playing in the Quinte area that’s playing for the Red Devils. If our team is interested in you and you get an opportunity to sign the AP card, you should 100 per cent do it if you want to move on to the next level. Just practising with the older guys and seeing some games, maybe getting in a game, it’s really huge for your development.
“It’s a great partnership.”