If there was any concern the back-to-back Ontario Junior Hockey League Conference playoff champion Wellington Dukes were resting on their laurels during their fast-paced recruiting season, those fears can be laid to rest.
Wellington started the retooling process in style this weekend, showing well at the annual Team Elite Prospects camp in Toronto this weekend.
With a pair of squads competing, the teams went a combined 11-2 over the three day event, going undefeated until the knockout round on Sunday.
The Wellington Blue Dukes would get a tough draw on Sunday morning and lost a tough 1-0 overtime game against the North American Screaming Eagles, a club that’s comprised of veterans and prospects from the vaunted Brooks Bandits program.
The Wellington Red Dukes would make the quarterfinals on Sunday but wound up dropping a contest against Jerome Dupont’s Centre of Hockey Excellence entry.
Despite the clubs not advancing farther into the playoff portion of the showcase, Dukes General Manager Todd Reid was elated with the results and how the organization was represented.
“The guys did really well and represented the organization wonderfully, There was a lot of buzz around the arean about both teams and I had plenty of inquiries from other clubs as to what are plans were with some of our younger players which is good I guess,” Reid said with a laugh. “It really gave us great chance to see who might be ready for the Jr. A level because the competition was tremendous.”
Wellington certainly had its fair share of players from well outside of the Quinte-Kingston drawing area but Reid made a point to state how impressed he and other observers were with players that had local ties.
“Our local talent is so important and it really showed up well, There’s a lot of hidden gems here and they did really, really well this weekend,” Reid said. “They really turned some heads.”
Reid pointed to players such as Marshall MacFarland, Ben and Logan White, Luke LaPalm, Cooper Rogers, Derek Vos, Barrett Joynt and Chad Muller.
The event also served as a Carlile reunion as former Duke Declan Carlile suited up with his bothers Owen and Kieran. Dukes fans shouldn’t get their hopes up on return to the lineup of Declan as the rearguard is still expected to join Zach Uens at Merrimack College this fall to play NCAA hockey.
However, the younger Carlile brothers might be potential Wellington players down the road.
The Flint Firebirds selected Owen Carlile, a forward in the recent OHL Priority Draft while Kieran Carlile had 26 points in 25 games playing high school hockey in his native Michigan.
“This was the first time the three of them got to play in a tournament together so the whole family was thrilled for that opportunity and we were so happy to be able to facilitate that for them. They are great developing players and we are going to watch them closely this year and see what happens. The Carlile family is appreciative for the experience Declan had during the 2017-18 season so if there’s an opportunity that fits for either or both players I think we will explore it,” Reid said.
The bloodline connection to alumni didn’t stop with Carlile however as Cade Helmer suited up for Wellington this weekend. Son of starry rearguard and NHL alum Bryan, Cade Helmer scored a goal and added a couple of helpers for the Blues. Cade Helmer, 18, played for the New Jersey Jr. Titans last season and Reid likes way the left winger operated in the corners.
“He’s a physical two way player with some nice hands so I’m sure we will be talking to Bryan over the summer,” Reid said with a laugh.
Cade Helmer brought along blueliner Avery Arnold who showed a knack for moving the puck and keeping thing clear in front of the Wellington net.
“We are going to try and get them both to our main camp and see how they perform in some exhibition games,” Reid added.
Wellington announced they had singed forwards Evan Miller, Jake Gagnon, Landon McLellan and Tanner Tolliver. They also managed to pick up former Cobourg Cougar defenceman Jacob Breckles to supplement the back end.
Miller, a Niagara-on-the-Lake native, was a better than point-per-game player last season in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League as he split time between the Thorold Blackhawks and the Fort Erie Meteors. Miller potted 23 goals and 27 helpers in 44 GOJHL games.
Gagnon is a friend of current Wellington Duke forward Dylan Massie and had 38 points in 29 games as captain of the Millbrook School team that competes in the United States Prep School league.
Tolliver spent the season at the Ontario Hockey Academy and is Halifax, NS native. The 17-year-old plays a heavy game and had 44 points in 45 games last season for the AAA squad that competes in the Ottawa area.
Finally, Dukes fans would know a little something about McLellan as the 17-year-old standout rookie had a tremendous season in Picton with the Pirates in 2018-19, notching 26 goals and adding 20 helpers in 43 Provincial Junior Hockey League games. The Belleville native played eight games for Wellington last season including six postseason games.
In Breckles, the Dukes pick up an OJHL veteran how has played 100 Jr. A games between Cobourg and Stoufville.
And prehaps saving the best for last, the Dukes announced Ben Evans would be rejoining the squad for his final junior season. The Thorold native left Wellington last summer to suit up with the GOJHL’s Niagara Falls Canucks and had 99 points in 42 games, uniting on a line with fellow Dukes alumnus Mitch Mendonca.
As mentioned, Uens will be departing for NCAA hockey this fall and while the defenceman didn’t hear his name called at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver, the Belleville native did get invited to the Vegas Golden Knights prospects camp as a free agent.
Reid wished the best for Uens as the player moved on from junior hockey.
“To me he’s a pro, he comes to the rink with a smile on his face, works harder than most everyday, wants to learn and develop at the NCAA level,” Reid said. “It’s tough when you are ranked and every player wants to get drafted but he’s got a great a chance now as a free agent. he’s great defensively, amazing offensively and I know for our team he leaves some huge skates to fill going forward.”