Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte
It took some time at the start of the season to settle back into the grind of junior hockey, but Wellington Dukes captain Emmet Pierce has been surging offensively since mid-November.
Pierce registered five goals and four assists through his first 17 Ontario Junior Hockey League games, but has been nearly unstoppable since then.
Held off the scoresheet just four times during the next 32 contests, Pierce has tallied 33 goals and contributed 30 assists during that span.
“It took me a couple months there at the start of the year to get back in the groove of things. With the year-and-a-half off from hockey I wasn’t playing at the level I should’ve been playing at the start of the year,” said Pierce, crediting the strength of his forward line with Jacob Vreugdenhil and David Campbell for his 72 points in 49 games. “My linemates definitely helped me get back in the swing of things and we’re producing well together.”
With five games remaining in the OJHL regular season, the Dukes as a team are also rounding into form after overcoming inconsistent results at the start of the campaign, roster changes and injuries.
“We got off to a bit of a slow start,” Pierce said. “Just a bunch of different changes throughout our lineup. Some guys just didn’t quite fit in and we seemed to throughout the year add pieces and guys that really gelled well together.
“We have guys through the first to the fourth line that can produce and on certain nights if my line is not going, another line will step up.”
Having a lengthy shutdown from mid-December until early February helped the Dukes heal some injuries and regroup and the players certainly embraced the opportunity to return to action.
“We were scared things were going to get shut down for even longer so (we had the mindset) we’re going to take advantage of getting to play and show our best,” Pierce said.
Wellington has won 15 of 22 games and collected 33 points (including from overtime losses) since the schedule resumed in February and have moved into first place in the OJHL’s East Division.
Four of their final five games on the league scheduled will be played at Lehigh Arena in Wellington, including Friday night against the Toronto Jr. Canadiens (38-11-1-0) at 7:30 p.m.
The Dukes (31-13-0-5) then head to Minden on Saturday afternoon to face the Haliburton County Huskies (30-14-1-4) at 2:30.
Wellington’s final three games at home are scheduled for Tuesday, March 29 against the Lindsay Muskies at 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 1 against the Trenton Golden Hawks – the final game of the Hasty P’s Cup – at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 3 against Haliburton at 2:30 p.m.
“We just have to crack down on little details,” Pierce said. “Our systems and everything, we’ve been playing them pretty well. We haven’t given up many goals, but a couple little mistakes leads to goals and if we get rid of those it will be difficult for teams to score against us.”
Pierce’s focus right now is on the Dukes as he closes out his junior hockey career, but the Napanee native will continue playing close to home for the next few years as he has committed to join Queen’s University Golden Gaels men’s hockey team in Kingston starting next season. The 20-year-old previously played two OHL seasons for the Flint Firebirds and former teammate Anthony Popovich, of Belleville, is a goaltender for Queen’s.
“Ever since I started playing junior hockey Queen’s was kind of always in the back of my mind,” Pierce, who plans to study economics, said. “It’s a great school and I know lots of guys that have played there and guys that are playing there currently and they all say great things so it was a pretty easy decision for me.”
At the time of the announcement in February, Dukes head coach Derek Smith stated in a release: “Emmet is just scratching the surface with his potential in hockey. Obviously the past couple of years haven’t been easy on anyone, but especially for Emmet who was looking to carve out a great career in the OHL. He continues to get better each and every week as you can see how great he’s been for us this season. He is going to have a great career after junior hockey. We are lucky to have him in Wellington as he is not just our leader and captain, but one of the best people I have met in the game of hockey.”