In the end, the drama of the final games of the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s 2022-23 season dissipated.
The Wellington Dukes secured in their spot as second overall in the Southeast Conference against a Lindsay Muskies team that had nothing to play for and breezed by the Fish at home on Friday night 6-1, giving the Dukes the margin they needed to stay above the third place Halliburton Huskies for good.
On Saturday, the Dukes polished off the Oakville Blades 5-2 to move their regular season record to 37-12-5 and 79 points, three clear of the Dogs.
Coach Derek Smith said he was proud of the way his team fought and clawed their way to an East Division title even if the OJHL higher ups have done away with divisional separations.
“We’ve come a long way since the fall,” Smith said, pointing to a turning point moment in Milton on Oct. 23.
The locals were 5-5-1 through their opening 11 games and slotted in fifth place. Tied 2-2 after two and being outshot by the host Menace, Dukes captain Jacob Vreugdenhil would pot the game winning goal with just over five minutes to play and Wellington hung on for a 3-2 win.
Since that mile post game, Wellington turned in a 32-7-4 record as they shot up the standings by way of determined and disciplined play and a lethal power play.
Wellington was the least penalized OJHL club in 2022-23 and their man advantage unit operated at a blistering 28.1 per cent.
It was fitting the club’s captain would bury the game winning goal in the season’s seminal contest as Vreugdenhil moved past Pete Magagna for all time regular season games played in the Wellington colours with 232 on Saturday night.
“Ruegy is an amazing kid from an outstanding family and he’s been passionate about being a Wellington Duke and being a leader for this franchise,” Smith said. “He’s an ultimate competitor who hates to lose and dedicates himself to getting better each and every game, every season. He plays in all situations for us and his durability is a testament to the time he spends taking care of himself in the gym.”
Not lost on Smith is that the captain set the new mark for longevity in a Wellington jersey while missing the 2020-21 season due to COVID.
“There aren’t too many guys that play five years for a Junior A franchise anymore so it’s very special to our organization that he’s dedicated his entire junior career to us,” Smith added.
On Friday, Wellington gave up an early goal to Lindsay’s Brayden McCallum but it was all Wellington after that.
Jared Langdon set up Corbin Roach at 6:24 to tie the game at 1-1 and then Toronto native Edward Moskowitz went off like a Roman candle, firing a natural Hat Trick in the span of 4:47. All three tallies were set up by linemate Luke LaPalm and the final goal chased Lindsay starter Yacine Chemrouk.
Wellington had single scores in the second and third periods respectively.
Barret Joynt scored a power play goal at the midway point of the middle stanza while Roach scored his 18th of the year in the final period, making it a nice season for the sophomore.
On Saturday at 16 Mile Arena, Moskowitz had another multi goal game, his 8th of the season, in a 5-2 win.
Jacob Dietz, Ryan Smith and Vreugdenhil also scored while Ethan Morrow picked up his second win in as many nights. After Morrow’s rough outing against Caledon back in mid February, Wellington’s net minding has shored up significantly and looks as though Smith could run with either the Kingston native or Jaco Osborne to start Game 1 of the Conference Quarter Finals which will start for Wellington on Wednesday night at Lehigh Arena at 7:30 against the St. Mike’s Buzzers.
The rest of the seven game set was still being ironed out by the OJHL but this page will be updated when the rest of the schedule is approved.