By: James Hurst for Total Sports Magazine
There are 132 teams in the Canadian Junior Hockey League. There are 10 leagues, in four regions. The Wellington Dukes play in a central region, along with other teams from Ontario, and one from Buffalo.
In 2018, the Dukes advanced all the way to the final game of the Canadian Championship, the Royal Bank Cup. The Dukes played the Chilliwack Chiefs in British Columbia, and lost the final game 4-2. In order to get there, they had to win the Dudley Hewitt Cup, which was held in Dryden, Ontario.
They won the Dudley Hewitt Cup twice previously, once in Huntsville in 2011, and once in Fort Frances. In order to get to the Dudley Hewitt Championships, teams must win the Buckland Cup, another impressive piece of hardware.
The 2018-2019 version of the Wellington Dukes came close to that plateau again this spring. Although they finished in the fourth and final playoff spot in their division, they proved the point that the “real season” begins when the regular season ends.
The Dukes play in the East Division of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. The other teams in the Division include: Cobourg, Trenton, Whitby, Kingston, and Lindsay. At the end of the season, the Kingston franchise, after many years in the East, moved the team to Collingwood, yet another story for a later date.
At the Christmas break, the Dukes goaltender, Olivier Lafreniere, bolted to the Laurier Hawks of the Ontario Universities league. Lafreniere was highly regarded, and there was major concern in the Dukes’ ranks. Jordan Bateman was acquired from Nepean, of the CCHL at that time, and proved to be just what the Dukes needed for the rest of the season.
The Cobourg Cougars finished the regular season in first place, and faced the Dukes in the first playoff round. The Cougars had finished well ahead of the Dukes in most areas that mean something, statistically. The one category that had the Dukes ahead of the Cougars was in the amount of time that the Dukes had spent in the penalty box. The only team that accumulated more minutes was the Lindsay Muskies. The Dukes finished the season with more than 200 minutes ahead of the Cougars.
Naturally, expectations were not too high that the Dukes would achieve great success in the playoffs. They had stumbled out of the gate at the beginning of the season, and were in danger of sitting out the playoffs. A note in the playoff program this year indicated that the Dukes were in the playoffs for their 30th consecutive season. Since they finished fourth, the had the unenviable task of playing the first place team-Cobourg.
The Dukes outlasted the Cougars to earn the right to face Whitby in the Division final. Again, the series with Whitby was a tough one. Down to game seven in the Fury’s barn. No problem for the Dukes.
The Conference championship involved the Dukes with the North York Rangers. Again, in a most unlikely fashion, the Dukes came from behind in Game Seven to defeat the Rangers, earning the right to face the Oakville Blades. That would give them the right to hoist the Buckland Cup, once again.
The first game took place in Oakville, and the Blades skated to a 6-0 victory. That was not a sign of things to come. The other three games in the series were hotly contested. But the Blades won each game, earning the right to head to Cochrane for the Dudley Hewitt Cup championships.
The Dukes were led in the regular season by Andrew Rinaldi who had 63 points. The rest of the top point-getters, in order: Tyson Gilmour-58, Elijah Gonsalves-53, Ben Woodhouse-42, Frank Vitucci-41, Dylan Massie-28, Daniel Panetta-23, Brett Humberstone-23, and Zach Uens-22.
Rinaldi again led the team in playoff scoring with 27 points in 22 games. Gilmour, Gonsalves, Quinn Hanna, Woodhouse, Vitucci, Humberstone, Uens, Panetta, and Eddy were the other leading scorers for the Dukes.
Once again this year, the Dukes had head coach John Druce behind the bench. His support staff included former Dukes Derek Smith and Sean Turner. The results speak for themselves. The team played before packed houses near the end of the season, a tribute to the players and the coaching staff.
FEATURE PHOTO – NORTH YORK, ON – Andrew Rinaldi #15 of the Wellington Dukes and Jett Alexander #72 of the North York Rangers on April 7, 2019 at Herbert Carnegie Centennial Arena in North York, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Ed McPherson / OJHL Images