After falling short of the Confrence’s best on Thursday night, the Wellington Dukes rebounded nicely over the weekend to show they are in heavy consideration to be atop the rest of the OJHL’s Southeast circuit.
The Dukes weren’t able to gain much traction against the visiting Toronto Jr. Canadiens on a rare Thursday night at Lehigh Arena, dropping a 4-0 decision against the Baby Habs who have only lost three times in regulation thus far into the 2022-23 season.
But on Sunday afternoon, Wellington righted the ship, taking down the Haliburton County Huskies 4-3 and, the following evening, the Dukes managed to skate away from the host Cobourg Cougars 6-3.
While Wellington didn’t gain any traction on Toronto, winning a pair of four point games against the immediate Southeast Conference field will keep local hopes alive that the Dukes can slip into second place and avoid an early playoff match up with the vaunted Junior Canadiens squad.
Amazingly, Toronto, who are the first team in the OJHL to qualify for the post season and are ranked fourth in Canada among Jr. A clubs, have gone a perfect 21-0 on the road this year and that streak continued after a visit to the Dukedome.
Chazz Nixon made 30 saves and was the difference maker as the Dukes managed to outshoot Toronto 30-19.
After a scoreless first, Michael Eftimovski scored the game’s first goal midway through the second. Alex Laurenza and Jordan Karafile would add goals midway through the third period to put the contest out of reach and then, with Wellington starter Ethan Morrow pulled late, Hayden Heinrich added an empty netter to make it a 4-0 final.
Jacob Osborne got the starting assignment on Sunday and was stellar for Wellington, making 34 saves including a couple of big stops in the opening frame that kept the game scoreless.
Wellington had the ice breaker in the second on the power play as a swooping David Campbell found Jacob Vreugdenhil lurking in the slot 1:21 into the frame.
Just over a minute later Ryan Cutler tipped a Lucas Lapalm shot through Haliburton goalie Aidan Spooner to extend Wellington’s lead to 2-0.
The Huskies got back into the game in quick fashion during the 15th minute.
Leo Serlin benefitted when Osborne couldn’t squeeze a point shot and the rebound to the slot was quickly snapped into the Wellington net for Haliburton County’s first of the game.
Just 46 seconds later, Ben Hofstetter converted on a 3-on-2 rush to tie the game at 2-2 but Wellington was able to quickly regain momentum.
Lapalm collected a Julien Jacob home run pass on the Huskies blue line and fired a five hole goal on Spooner at 16:43 to push the Dukes ahead again at 4-3.
Haliburton crawled back to even early in the third when Jack Staniland scored off a neat individual effort 1:51 into the period.
Tied at 3-3 and with Wellington trailing the Huskies in the regular season points parade by seven, the contest was looking like a must for the locals.
Wellington wouldn’t disappoint as Lapalm would curl off the half wall and beat Spooner low with just under three minutes to play to give the Dukes the winning edge.
Wellington deserves full credit for grinding out the waning moments of the final stanza as the Dukes caged the Huskies for almost the entire final minute and didn’t allow the visitors any realistic chance at tying the game late.
On Monday, Wellington would light the lamp early and often and managed a pair of power play tallies that lifted them over the Cougars.
With Cobourg having games in hand, the impetus was on Wellington to make sure they stayed ahead of the Cougar’s pace.
Edward Moskowitz would set up a Jacob Dietz power play blast at 8:51 of the first to stake the visitors to a 1-0 lead but the Cougars would respond with an Andy Reist goal just over three minutes later.
Wellington got a lightning quick advantage in the second as Corbin Roach would pick off an errant Cougar pass at the start of the middle frame and the Belleville native pushed the locals ahead to stay just six seconds into the second.
Just over three minutes later, Connor Hunt set up Vreugdenhil for the pivot’s 20th of the season to make it 3-1.
Cobourg’s Trevor Hoskin would get a goal back and beat Morrow at 4:01 but Wellington’s Lapalm would tally the club’s second man advantage goal at the 9:02 mark as he restored his club’s three goal cushion.
Nearly 20 minutes were played with the score 4-2 before Matheson Mason would add a shorthanded marker at 9:20 of the third.
Ryan Smith would beat Cougars starter Ryan Piros at 14:06 after picking off a Cobourg pass to make the contest 6-2.
Tyler Hunt would bag a late goal for the hosts with just seven seconds left likely while Wellington were into their victory formation and thinking about the short bus ride back to the Dukedome.
Wellington is in Caledon on Thursday night and then return home for a game on Friday against the Cougars.
The Dukes are in North York to play the Rangers on Sunday evening.