The Battle of Quinte OJHL Preview

Special Report By Puck Chaser

The 2019-2020 Season saw the two Quinte teams sitting atop the OJHL as the beasts of the East. It was clear that whoever won that looming epic play off battle may have a clear shot to win the Buckland Cup. Unfortunately for local hockey fans, this battle was decided by Covid 19 and not the teams on the ice.  Just as the two teams were to meet for the East Division banner, the hockey world crashed to a stop, and the season was lost. On paper, Wellington had dominated Trenton, owning the season series with a 5-1-1 record, however pundits believed that the series would be closer with the playoff atmospheres at both rinks ramping up and the veteran laden rosters prepared to play a tighter, heavier playoff game.  Alas, we will never know. 

Key stats from last year show just how close these teams were: 

At the time of printing the 2020-21 season was still a work in progress.  Return to play protocols have been published and teams are working through scenarios of when to begin training. Traditional timing of recruitment and training camps have been replaced with 35 man rosters and a staggered milestone plan for return to play. If all things go as planned, OJHL fans will see exhibition games begin late October or early November with a full season beginning in November and running longer than usual into March. There is potential for a shortened schedule, but the current plan is to get a full schedule done. One potential change may be an even more focused regional schedule, which would see Trenton and Wellington play even more than the seven meetings last season. Large portions of the teams in the OJHL rely on players’ fees to be sustainable. Wellington and Trenton are less reliant on player fees as they have tried to minimize those fees by filling the stands and providing strong advertising and marketing campaigns for local supporting businesses. Should the league return to play with no fans to start, it would particularly affect these two programs; the most of any team in the league.  

Wellington Dukes Overview

Last year’s Dukes team was considered by most people close to the team as the deepest team ever assembled by the franchise. The Dukes camp felt they had the horses to take them back to the Centennial Cup National Championship game again, just as they were in 2018 when they lost in the final in Chilliwack to the host team. The depth of that team has paid dividends for this coming season as the Dukes return some key players with a strong core of veterans and a few high-end pickups and rookies. Coach Derek Smith is considered one of the brightest young hockey minds in the game currently and will be sure to have his squad ready for the challenge this year of defending their regular season banner.


The strength of this team will be down the centre and with the size and skill of the forward lines. Returning players Evan Miller and Ben Woodhouse down the middle will provide the best 1-2 punch in the league supported by players like Brody McDougall (Bowling Green Commit) and former OHL and QMJHL player James White. White is expected to be one of the top all around players in the league this coming season. Newly appointed captain Ben Addison will anchor a solid defence core sporting a good mix of veterans and new additions including 16-year-old Aaron Brown, a recent Quinnipiac commit. Brown will be joined by Cooper Matthews, a highly skilled winger drafted by the Barrie Colts as two of the three 16 year olds on the roster this year. 

The graduation of some dominant scorers such as Jake Gagnon, Frank Vitucci and Ben Evans among others will need to be overcome for the team that scored the most goals in the OJHL year. Evan Miller, who sustained a serious injury early in last season, proved down the stretch that he is up to the task to replace that scoring.

The highly skilled pivot will have a strong supporting cast and he along with White, Woodhouse and McDougall will provide the scoring needed The culture created by coach Derek Smith was epitomized last season with the work ethic of players like Dawson Ellis and Daniel Panetta. With both of those players gone, it will fall on the shoulders of Woodhouse and Trenton native Jacob Vreugendhill to be inspirational leaders of this deep roster assembled by the Dukes management.  


in the OJHL in net and was only matched by Trenton’s tandem last season. Sporting a .922 Save %, the tandem of Matt Dunsmoor and Matt Keeley  had the best stats in the league last year.  Unfortunately for the Dukes Keeley has moved on to the University of Western Ontario and Dunsmoor has taken an opportunity in the QMJHL There is a chance that Dunsmoor may come back if his playing time is not as advertised with his new team. In the meantime the Dukes have some holes to fill. They have signed a strong 16-year-old goalie from Kingston named Ethan Morrow who is a Sudbury Wolves draft pick. Filling the remaining position will be the biggest challenge for GM Todd Reid and head scout Rob Ridgely as the season approaches. Sporting former NHLer Mike Murphy as the goalie coach, it is expected that the Dukes will be able to attract top talent to the Duke Dome.  

X Factor 

Last year’s penalty kill was the 2nd best in the league and scored a league high 12 short handed goals led by Daniel Panetta and Dawson Ellis who never failed to get the Wellington faithful out of their seats. Both have moved on. Ellis to NCAA with Adrian College and Panetta to the BCHL in a trade. This ability to score a big goal short handed or just to change the momentum in a game was a secret weapon for the Dukes. That tradition should be carried on by speedster Jacob Vreugendhill along with Ben Woodhouse and James White who both defend at a high pace but are dangerous on transition.  

Best Case Scenario 

With the returning depth along with the strong crop of new veterans, the sky’s the limit for this latest edition of the Dukes. As the season progresses some added depth on defence will be needed. The biggest question mark is in net. If a strong number 1 is found, a return to the top of the standings is not out of the question for this group.  Led by the reigning coach of the year, Derek Smith this team will be a hand full for anyone in the nation this year.  

Worst Case Scenario 

The Dukes are a well-balanced team with a strong core of veterans along with a very skilled bunch of young players. There is no doubt this will be a playoff team that will compete to the end and be one of the top teams in the league. During the 2018-19 season the Dukes were granted the Dudley Hewitt Cup, which meant they were to host the event during the 2019-20 season. A decision was made to stick tight to that young roster in 2018. Although the Dukes made it to the final of the league losing the Buckland Cup finale to the stacked Oakville Blades, that decision gave them the opportunity for the team we saw last season, which was capable of winning a National Championship. Should Covid 19 cause a cancellation of a National Championship, it will be interesting what this Dukes team decides to do when the trade deadline arrives. Do you go for it again or foster the youth for a run in 2021-22.

Graduating Players – Wellington Dukes

Matt Dunsmoor.  Rimouski (QMJHL)

Jake Gagnon. RPI (NCAA)

Dylan Massie Lakehead (USPORTS)

Dawson Ellis Adrian (NCAA)

Noah Massie Lakehead (USPORTS)

Jacob Breckles Adrian (NCAA)

Justin Paul St.Lawrence (NCAA)

Quinn Hanna Toronto (USPORTS)

Brett Humberstone Long Island U. (NCAA)

Ryan Smith RMC (USPORTS)

Frank Vitucci. Alabama-Huntsville (NCAA)

Trenton Golden Hawks Overview 

In 2019-20 the Golden Hawks maybe lacked the depth of the Dukes but had as potent a top two lines in the country. Led by a strong defence core capable of leading the scoring from the back end, the Hawks sported the best power play in the league last season as well as the number 2 tandem in net. Coach Pete Goulet utilized the cozy confines of the “Dunc” to his team’s advantage and the most exuberant fans in the league were always a factor in the game. The season started slow for the Golden Hawks but culminated within a strong finish that was headed for an epic battle in the division final. The key turning point for last year’s squad came against a tough Toronto Jr. Canadiens squad last season.  Down 4-1 with 7 minutes left in the game, the Hawks were able to find another gear and  battle back to not only tie the game but win it in overtime. This game gave the group the confidence to believe they could be the elite team they became last season. 


Last year’s team was led by Sam Duchesne and Colin VandenHurk on the back end. Once again defence will be a strength for the Golden Hawks. Defenceman Kyle Robinson was acquired in November last year and made an immediate impact by providing that veteran stability for a second pairing. Robinson will be leaned on heavily this season to play big minutes in all situations. Stefan Dobrich and Julien Jacob gained a ton of experience last year as young blue liners and will be impact players this season.  In a 3 way deal this past summer the Golden Hawks acquired 2001 right shot defenceman Brannon Butler who is expected to be a top player in this league this season. The experienced blue liner will bring some offence along with a bruising defensive style. The other key factor is the return of hulking goalie Oliver Troop. The over age net minder provides a solid goalie who was one half of the second best save percentage in the league last year.  


Scoring may be a challenge for this team compared to Trenton teams of the past. The Pittsburgh connection of Wyatt George, Ryan Brown and Jared Gerger were expected to have break out seasons this season. With Covid 19, it is unclear if these players will be available due to constraints at the border and Hockey Canada rulings. Quinte Red Devil product Dalton Bancroft will be relied upon to put up some points and play big minutes for the Golden Hawks this season. Bancroft is a gifted goal scorer with soft hands and a great shot packaged in a big frame capable of creating space for himself.  After that it is unclear where the points will come from. As per last year, offence may come from the back end. 

X Factor 

Adding Jerome Dupont as Director of Hockey Operations was viewed from the outside as an unusual addition. Goulet and Dupont had been fierce competitors for a number of years. Goulet says; “Jerome and I have tremendous respect for each other despite the fierce competition between our teams in the past. We both have a tireless work ethic and  a drive to be the best every day.”  Dupont is a relentless recruiter with extensive  contacts that will only compliment an already accomplished recruiter in Goulet. Dupont’s experience of going to the National Championship three times, winning it in 2007 will provide a very strong brain trust in the Trenton barn. This leadership group will make a difference in a league that has so much turnover year to year.

Best Case Scenario 

This team has the potential to compete for the top spot in the league no doubt that Goulet and Dupont will answer the questions around scoring. The defence corps may be the deepest in the league. With a few new recruits up front the Hawks could return to the top of the league once again. Last year’s team was number 1 on the PK and 3rd in the  league for PP which is a strong indication of coaching along with personnel.

Worst Case Scenario 

If the Hawks are unable to garner some scoring punch up front all is not lost for this  group. A strong defence corps combined with good goaltending and a coaching staff that  preaches defence first will make it difficult for other teams to play in the cozy confines of  the “Dunc” .This will be a strong playoff contender no matter what and will be a threat  every night with a good solid core to move forward next year.

Graduating Players Trenton Golden Hawks 

Adam Kim Ottawa U (USports)       

Sam Duchesne.  Brock (USports) 

Colin Van Den Hurk Lakehead (USPORTS) 

Anand Oberoi Ottawa (USports) 

Sullivan Sparks Laurier (USports) 

Andrew Suriyuth Ontario Tech (USports) 

Tyler Nelson. Lake Foster (NCAA)

Cameron Gaylor   Brock  U. (USports)

Photos by Amy Deroche OJHL Images