You can hardly blame local hockey observers if they scanned the Ontario Junior Hockey League preseason results web page Tuesday morning and thought “That’s more like it.”
The Wellington Dukes showed their first streak of consistency of the 2021 preseason and swept East Division rivals Cobourg in convincing fashion, bucking the previous trend of showing well at the Dukedome on a Friday only to become wood to the opposition buzz saw later in the weekend. The Dukes declawed the Cougars at the Dukedome on Friday night 5-1 and on Monday at the Cougar den, replicated the four goal spread with a 6-2 decision.
Dukes Head Coach Derek Smith said his club was able to find the groove this weekend, start turning in complete 60 minute efforts and the consistency Wellington had previously been lacking was suddenly evident-in spades.
“We started doing the little things teams need to do to win and all of a sudden we started to be more successful shift after shift, period after period,” Smith told the Gazette Tuesday. “We consider this preseason a success because I’m sure this group has figured out On what it takes to be successful in this league.”
On Monday, Wellington had it their way over the first 40 minutes, accumulating a 5-0 lead and taking the hosts out of the game ever so slowly. Midway through the first, Wellington’s Barret Joynt liked the special teams game so nice he counted twice-scoring a shorthanded effort at 10:23 and potting a powerplay goal just over two minutes later to stake the visitors to a 2-0 lead. Jacob Vreugdenhil set up the shorthanded effort while rearguard Johnathon Balah teed up the man advantage marker. In the second, it was a chance for Wellington’s hulking captain to get in on the act, firing home a goal just 1:29 into the frame. Napanee native and former OHLer Emmett Pierce will skipper the squad this season and if you can’t see him from the Dukedome stands, an eye examination might be in order.
Standing at 6’6” the right winger has 79 games of Major Junior service and has returned to the Quinte area for his final season of junior hockey.
“He’s an extremely capable leader with tons of junior experience. He’s going to be someone out guys can look up to both figuratively and literally,” Smith said with a laugh. “He’s quiet in the room but he holds his teammates accountable and that’s a major factor in leading at this level.” It seems like the aforementioned Joynt was a fresh faced forward arriving from Kingston just a few months ago but he, Vreugdenhil and Mason Reeves will round out the Wellington leadership group in 2021-22. “All those guys have a deep pride of what this organization is about, what it means to the community and the legacy they carry with them each time out of the dressing room. The Dukes logo is not lost on them,” Smith added. Up 3-0, Wellington kept skating away from the Cougars.
Will Mitchell converted Corbin Roach pass at 4:22 and then fellow 2005 birth Ethan Quick fired home a goal at the 11:24 mark, chasing former Wellington farm hand Sam Dingle from the Cougars cage. Cam Kosurko had his second helper of the contest while Peirce added a second point in the second period. In the third, Cobourg’s Justin Jamer finally solved Wellington starter Matt Dunsmoor with a powerplay goal at 4:03. However, Wellington’s Payton Schaly answered back with a volley set up by Jacob Dietz under two minutes later. A Barrie native, Schaly, 20, has made the rounds in junior hockey. Before being acquired from the Collingwood Blues earlier this preseason, Schaly wore the uniforms of Brockville, Aurora and Potomac of the USPHL.
A Liam Filip goal in the late going helped soothe the Cats somewhat and make the final 6-2. Dunsmoor would make 28 saves for Wellington and, after the weekend’s evidence, the tandem of the Burlington native and Ethan Morrow is looking every bit the part of an elite duo.
“You can’t win without solid goaltending and both these guys are solid,” Smith said. “Dunsmoor has that Major Junior experience from the Quebec league while Ethan is blossoming and developing extremely well and having two goaltenders this good is a great problem to have.”
On Friday, Wellington broke the ice midway through the first when Brady Darrach fed Mason Reeves at 9:32 of the first. In the second, Vreugdenhil managed to best Carter Tahk 1:23 in. Cobourg’s only successful volley of the game came at 5:21 of the second as Thomas Stewart beat Morrow, the Wellington netminder’s only mistake in a 27 save outing. In the third, it was Harrison Ballard’s chance to make a splash. The American-born power forward is committed to attend UMass of the NCAA next season and had a pair of goals in the frame that sandwiched a Joynt effort. Vreugdenhil and Pierce each had a pair of helpers on Ballard’s two tallies.
Wellington opens the their season on Friday night when they host Mississauga. Their first road contest of the 2021-22 season comes the following night in Cobourg.