There’s a number of ways to downplay the Wellington Dukes 2-0 record thus far into the 2018 Ontario Junior Hockey league preseason.
One is that Wellington only has four exhibition games to figure out its roster, meaning the Dukes need to be closer to its eventual slate of players while other clubs have an extra game or two to figure things out.
Another is to point out Kingston, who was beaten badly at the hands of host Dukes on Friday evening at Lehigh Arena, was playing its first preseason game while Wellington won its first tune up Wednesday in Trenton.
A third is that Wellington might be better conditioned at this stage of training camp considering the club is coming off its shortest offseason in Dukes history after making it the final game of the 2018 Royal Bank Cup.
But at the end of the day, so what?
Discount all you like but the Dukes are reloading, not rebuilding.
The fact is that Wellington (so far) looks to have most-if-not-all the pieces it needs to contest and defend its East Division crown by the end of the 2018-19 OJHL campaign.
The Dukes were the far better club for 50 of 60 minutes Friday night as they bombed the visiting Kingston Voyageurs 9-2.
Kingston actually managed to lead the game 2-1 after the first but the roof quickly caved in during the second period as the hosts found the back of the Vees net early and often.
Wellington had nine different scorers which was a pleasant factoid and would have surely been a club record had the game counted for more than a late summer work out.
Logan White, Zach Uens, Andrew Rinaldi, Jonathon Harrison, Madoka Suzuki, Adam Usinger, Dalton Bancroft and Keenan Eddy all lit the lamp in the second and third periods to lift Wellington to the lopsided triumph.
After Kingston’s Brady Rawn scored just under five minutes in, Elijah Gonsalves scored for Wellington to even the score at 1-1.
Peter Izzo but the visitors ahead by one late in the first and that was the last bright spot on a forgettable-if-not-dismal outing for the Vees.
Wellington Dukes Coach John Druce said the 2019 training camp has been more about evaluation and assessing the strengths of the clubs system and networks of prospects and resources.
Druce said that Wellington dressed very different lineups in Trenton and against Kingston yet the Dukes were able to look sharp in spite of an abbreviated camp.
“They were very different lineups but I thought the team speed and work ethic were good. I was really pleased with those elements in our game,” Druce said. “They are small things but they usually make up the difference that makes a team successful.”
Andrew Rinaldi got into his first preseason game Friday and scored a great goal in the second, taking the puck at the redline, bursting through the Kingston zone and barging to the net, stuffing the puck under Kingston goalie JP Moquin.
“He’s in great shape,” Druce said of Rinaldi. “He was tops in our fitness testing on the weekend and he’s come back to Wellington ready and in the right mind set.”
Druce was especially enthused with returnees like Dan Panetta, Nelson Powers, Dawson Ellis and Zach Uens who are looking to experience another championship run like the one last spring.
“They all got that invaluable experience last season and they’ve all come back in great shape and raring to go,” Druce added.
In addition to the above players, OJHL veterans Elijah Gonsalves and Madoka Suzuki who were picked up in trades earlier this offseason, are impressing the coach.
“Elijah has been a great pick up for us. He can skate, he’s in tremendous physical condition and he can mix it up with anybody. Madoka has been great with the puck so far,” said Druce.
Suzuki’s tally on Friday involved him walking out from the half boards and picking the top corner of the net in a highlight reel-type play.
Carson Poulin picked up the win on Friday night but wasn’t around long to enjoy it as the club, as might have been expected, traded the Junior A veteran to the Georgetown Raiders for a player development fee.
After the Dukes managed to land alumnus and OHL veteran Olivier LaFreniere, the writing was on the wall for Poulin who is also heading into his final year of Jr. A hockey.
Some players will drift out of Wellington in order to attend OHL camps this week.
Players typically have 48 hours to feel out the Major Junior organizations before their NCAA eligibility expires so Wellington will a good grasp on what they might lose in terms of graduation by Friday.
Druce expected to dress a good portion of his opening night lineup on Friday night when Cobourg visits Lehigh Arena.
Prior to that contest, Wellington hosts Trenton Wednesday night.
Both games start at 7:30 p.m.