It might not be the prettiest stretch of hockey for the Wellington Dukes this season but the club continues to stack up victories like cord wood and stay at the head of the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s East Division.
Wellington (17-3-1) find themselves tied with the Trenton Golden Hawks with 35 points for top spot in the East but the locals hold down the number one slot thanks to having three games in hand on their arch rivals.
As of Tuesday, Wellington was second overall in the OJHL in terms of winning percentage with a .883 mark, trailing only the South division Toronto Patriots who boast .875 through 20 games, one fewer than the Dukes.
Wellington picked up a pair of home wins this weekend, downing the Cobourg Cougars in a penalty-filled affair on Friday night before beating up on the Lindsay Muskies on Sunday afternoon.
While the team could have used a little dose of discipline in a 5-2 win over the Cougars, coach Derek Smith said the club’s penalty kill was outstanding, particularly the play of netminder Matthew Dunsmoor.
After Cobourg opened the scoring in the first with a power play goal Dunsmoor had little chance one, Wellington effectively killed eight straight penalties called against them.
“We’ve talked about being disciplined and when you look at our penalties, we’ve really cut back on the stick penalties,” Smith told the Gazette. “Now we just need to make sure we are playing hard between the whistles and avoid any of the extra stuff with the other team and the officials.”
Wellington leads the league in penalty minutes at 480 and only two other teams, Buffalo and Cobourg, have broached the 400 minute total this point in the season.
Both those teams are below the .500 mark.
Smith admitted as a first time head coach, the former NHLer is trying to find the fine line some nights in teaching discipline and reining in the players that play with that edge that seems to draw the referee’s attention.
“It’s about holding yourself accountable and it can be the hardest thing for a player to figure out,” Smith said. “I hope we are learning from it and learn and grow as a team to not be on the wrong end of the calls.”
Cobourg was a willing combatant Friday and the game was called in such a fashion there were plenty of trips to the sin bin.
With Brandon Brazeau off for a cross checking penalty, a one timer off the stick of Cobourg’s Mac Lowry broke the ice at 7:41 of the first, giving the visitors a lead.
It would turn out to be short lived and the Cougar’s only lead of the game.
Just over two minutes later, Wellington’s Frank Vitucci converted a Dan Panetta feed from inside the circles to make it 1-1 after one.
In the second, captain Ryan Smith would jam home his third of the season off a rebound off the end boards at 6:01 to push the Dukes ahead 2-1.
Newly acquired Napanee native Jacob Campbell would outlast Dunsmoor at the 7:58 mark to tie things back up at 2-2 but Jake Gagnon would rip home the game winning tally just over two minutes later thanks to a nice Jacob Vreugdenhil feed at 9:36.
Wellington managed some insurance in the late stages of the frame as the Dukes were killing off a penalty.
A point shot from the Cobourg blue line would wind up hitting Campbell in the foot in the high slot area, felling the Cougars forward. Noah Massie collected the loose puck and sprung Vitucci on a break away and the Yardley, PA native made no mistake, beating Dershahn Stewart to make it 4-2 Wellington.
The Dukes active penalty kill early in the third period would net them their fourth shorthanded goal of the season as Panetta would set up Dawson Ellis 15 seconds into the third to make it a 5-2 final.
Of note, Wellington wore special pink jerseys as part of their ‘Pink in the Rink’ Canadian Cancer Society fundraising night.
Wellington wouldn’t get out of the third without taking collateral damage however as Ben Evans and Brazeau were shown the gate for yapping at the officials and were forced to sit Sunday’s game against Lindsay.
Not that Wellington necessarily needed the services of the forwards as they picked the Muskies clean in a 9-2 drubbing.
The Lindsay organizations has made some improvements in recent weeks and were coming off a 3-0 win over Aurora on Friday as well as a tough 2-1 loss to Wellington a couple of weeks ago where the Dukes scored with four seconds left in the game to seal the win.
But the Dukes were outfitted and ready to reel on Sunday and they landed goals early and often.
“On Friday because of all the penalties, were were never really able to get our depth working for us and that’s a big factor in our success so far,” Smith said. “On Sunday, the game flowed a lot better and were able to have everyone engaged and involved early.”
Wellington’s Dylan Massie had a whale of game, picking up six assists- three of those coming on Gagnon’s hat trick effort.
Gagnon would rip a power play goal at the 4:18 mark to give Wellington a 1-0 lead.
Later in the frame, Quinn Hanna was able to get to the dot to the right of Lindsay starter Dean Buchholz and go high glove side for Wellington’s second of the frame.
Panetta would tally later in the period to make it 3-0 for the Dukes heading to the dressing room after 20.
Perhaps sensing his team was going the wrong way on a one way street and not wanting to send Buchholz back out for more abuse, Muskies coach Brendan O’Grady switched goalies for the second and sent in Ben Edwards.
Wellington would double their lead in the second as Smith would bang home a powerplay goal on the door step off a Massie feed at 3:57.
Massie would add another apple to his haul in the dying moments of the second, collecting a happy bounce in the Lindsay end and spotting a wide open Barrett Joynt at the side of the Muskie net with just two seconds left in the session.
Lindsay would finally solve Wellington starter Matt Keeley 27 seconds in as Noah Pardy snapped home a goal from the slot to make it 5-1 in favour of the hosts but the margin quickly spiralled out of control for the Fish after that.
Massie would set up Gagnon twice to make 7-1 and then found rookie Landon McLellan at 10:08 for his sixth helper of the game.
Ellis would add a powerplay goal at 15:48 to make it a 9-1 spread.
Muskies forward Jake Rauch would score at with under two to play to get the game’s final goal.
Wellington hosts Mississauga at Lehigh Arena on Friday night and then makes the short trip to Trenton for a road game on Sunday evening.