If the defence of their 2018 Buckland Cup Championship is a picture puzzle, the Wellington Dukes are tasked with replacing a few missing pieces.
The club will not have the point producers they enjoyed last season in the form of Mitchell Mendonca and Ben Evans as the pair have decided to join the Niagara Falls Canucks of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
One of the best passers in Junior A last season, Evans set up the Buckland Cup championship winning goal in overtime of Game 6, setting off bedlam at the Essroc Arena as Wellington bested the Georgetown Raiders for Ontario Junior Hockey League supremacy.
And who could forget Mendonca’s clutch efforts all post season including the Game One overtime winner of the 2018 Junior A championship series?
On the backend, the hockey club has been dealt a blow as Declan Carlile has accepted an offer to suit up for Jon Hull’s Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League.
A one time Duke back in the late 90’s, Hull must have heard how Carlile was developing into a force in the former Dukes’ stomping grounds, serving as a great powerplay quarterback and providing sound defence each and every shift.
The highly touted prospect played in the Canadian Junior Hockey League top prospects game last winter, scoring a goal and was one of two Wellington Dukes placed on the 2018 NHL Draft Watch list.
Mason Snell, since traded to the British Columbia Hockey League, was the other.
But as was proven last season in many ways, the unknown and change is nothing to fear when it comes to the Wellington Dukes.
New players, new coaching and new philosophy were be the catalyst for a new era in the hockey club’s fortunes.
But that doesn’t mean General Manager Todd Reid and Coach John Druce won’t have their work cut out for them when it comes to replacing and rejigging the Wellington Dukes lineup as the club looks to return to the lofty heights occupied by a championship-contending hockey club.
The team will be on the ice this weekend at Essroc Arena as the 2018 training camp gets underway on Saturday.
Reid expects between three and four teams of prospects and returning players on the ice during the two-day session with the number of players in camp cut to around 25-30 by Monday.
“We’ve got some guys coming in but we don’t want any complacency,” Reid told the Gazette Monday. “We’ve got a lot of high end local talent here wanting to make the grade and we’ve got some great players coming in as well. It’s junior hockey so the competition for those spots will be fierce.”
Reid acknowledged the departure of Evans and Mendonca and thanked both for their service to the hockey club during the 2017-18 championship campaign.
“Ben and Mitch were both great point producers for us and were able to step up and make big plays at very important times all playoffs,” Reid said. “We are going to affiliate them both from Junior B and they wanted to stay involved that way.”
And given the involvement of GOJHL players during Wellington’s Buckland Cup and Dudley Hewitt Cup championships and the Royal Bank Cup tournament, one can only imagine what their return come playoff time might do for the hockey club in the spring of 2019.
On the back end, Reid admitted Wellington was going to miss Carlile.
And not only the organization but also the community as well.
“Declan is a pretty amazing hockey player but also a pretty amazing kid as well. He was going be a leader this season so it’s a huge loss for this organization but a good opportunity for him,” Reid said.
It’s also part of a trend as the USHL has become a league that is gaining par status with the Canadian Hockey League.
In total, six players from Hull’s team were selected in the 2018 NHL Entry draft in late June.
“Declan certainly noticed that and the USHL is an emerging league but the OJHL still prides itself as a top development league,” Reid said.
Among those in camp will be one of Reid’s newest acquisition, Tyson Gilmour.
Gilmour was officially picked up last week in a deal with the Powasson VooDoos of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League where the Kingston native scored 48 goals over the last two campaigns.
Hockey fans in these parts might remember Tyson’s father Doug who played played a few games with the Belleville Bobcats in 1979-80 before that team merged with Wellington in 1989 to form the current Junior A club.
Doug Gilmour went on to play some pro hockey through the 1980’s and 1990’s.
“We are excited to add Tyson in our lineup and we’ve added some very hard working hockey players to our lineup during the offseason,” Reid said “This is going to be a team the community and the Dukes fans can get behind and support.”
‘Round the ‘Roc: Among the acquisitions that may not turn up in camp or at all is hulking forward James White. The Peterborough native is expected to attend the St. John’s Fog Devils Training Camp. If things don’t work out in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Wellington will retain his rights. Reid said Rayside Balfour was up front with Wellington when the Dukes acquired White’s rights and the GM said there was always the chance that White may or not make Major Junior this season…On the goaltending front, one would think OJHL veteran Carson Poulin currently has the inside track on the starting position but will be challenged by a number of prospects such as Quinte AAA grad Ethan Taylor and Chowder Cup standout Danick Francouer…Somewhere out in the ether is the question of where former Wellington Duke Olivier LeFreniere might land this season. Ollie the Goalie’s Major Junior time may have run its course due to his overage status and the addition of European netminders back into the CHL’s mix of import players. His time in Owen Sound looks all but done as the OHL club will likely give most of the starts this season to prospect Mack Guzda. The Attack also just picked up the OHL rights to Georgetown Raiders back up Nathan Torchia. Torchia played one Major Junior game with the Oshawa Generals last season and is looking to return to the OHL on a full time basis.