Story by Jeff Gard
March 2020 was set to feature another series in the long rivalry between the Trenton Golden Hawks and Wellington Dukes.
The series was postponed and never got underway before the rest of the Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs were cancelled. The Dukes and Golden Hawks had finished atop the regular season standings with 88 and 84 points, respectively.
“You go back and look at all the guys we had…that whole crew was a great team,” said Golden Hawks head coach and general manager Peter Goulet, noting players like Griffen Fox and goalie Anand Oberoi. “People are still talking to me about that. It’s probably been a long time since Trenton and Wellington have been 1-2 in the league and everyone was really excited for that series. Smitty (Dukes head coach Derek Smith) had put together a good team over there too in Wellington and it would’ve been special.”
While the two teams met in a number of exhibition games during 2020-21 when there was no OJHL regular season, but it wasn’t the same. Goulet traded a number of players away from Trenton to give them an opportunity to play regular competitive hockey elsewhere, including a number of them to the Maritime Junior Hockey League. Dalton Bancroft, Marko Jakovljevic and Fox were traded to the MHL’s Amherst Ramblers, Kyle Robinson and Stefan Dobrich to the Yarmouth Mariners and Julian Jacob to the Grand Falls Rapids. Brannon Butler was dealt to the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Some of the players aged out of junior hockey, but for others there were conditions on the trades that the players return to Trenton for the OJHL 2021-22 season. Bancroft and Butler, heading into their fourth junior A seasons, and Jacob, for his third, are back with the Golden Hawks.
“It’s all a ton of experience and at the junior A level it’s very important to have on your hockey team,” Goulet said. “All of them are leaders and they’re going to have a huge impact on our team this season.”
Bancroft and Butler will serve as co-captains this season. Goulet noted Bancroft is Trenton’s longest-tenured player, is local and has a lot of upside following in the footsteps of his father Steve, who played 16 seasons of professional hockey.
“There’s a lot of pedigree there, the guys all like him and respect him,” Goulet said. “He has the right demeanour for it.”
Butler was also named a captain due to his experience and the intangibles he brings to the Golden Hawks a tough defenceman with offensive upside.
“I think we’re going to see a great year from Brannon,” Goulet said. “He’s going to bring a lot of physical play and be able to put up some numbers and score some goals and help lead our hockey team from the back-end.”
Goulet worked the phones during the off-season to add more big pieces to the Trenton roster. The Golden Hawks were also able to bring in 20-year-old Aiden MacIntosh from Amherst. In addition to his MHL experience, MacIntosh previously played 93 games with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL.
Another player brought in with QMJHL experience is 19-year-old Lucas Robinson, the younger brother of Kyle, and who played 86 games with the Halifax Mooseheads.
“Both high-end players and men with great character,” Goulet said of MacIntosh and Robinson. “It’s priceless for an organization when you get the right players with the right attitude coming in.”
In net, the Golden Hawks have brought home Trenton native and 20-year-old goaltender Ethan Taylor from the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds.
“He lives five minutes from our rink and played three years in the Soo so it’s a huge pickup for us,” Goulet said, noting Taylor will make a strong tandem with William Nguyen.
Joins William Nguyen.
“We’ve added some great pieces to our team,” Goulet added.
Belleville’s Sami Douglas-Najem, who played for the Quinte Red Devils, has signed with the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, but will spend the upcoming season developing with the Golden Hawks.
Trenton has also added a couple sets of brothers, who played in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, including 19-year-old twins Jordyn and Trystan Mughal from the Hearst Lumberjacks. Coming in from the Blind River Beavers are 17-year-old Devin and 19-year-old Justin Mauro.
“They add great depth, they’re great skaters, they have great compete and are very strong hockey players,” Goulet said.
Goulet is looking for his players to just compete as they find their footing again and many return to contact hockey for the first time in 16 to 18 months and learning to play with their new teammates.
“It’s just about building relationships with each other and trusting each other. Probably half our players are new on the team and understanding what the coaching staff is asking of them,” Goulet said. “All that stuff doesn’t happen overnight and you’ve got to figure which way your team plays best. There’s many different ways you can play the game and it’s important we understand the best way for our team to play.
“There’s no trophies in September. Trophies are at the end of the year so it’s about building our team and our product and getting through the process to where we want to end this year.”