If Friday night’s contest at Essroc Arena was any indication of how the 2016-17 season will go for the Wellington Dukes, it’s sure to be an entertaining hockey year in the County.
In a thriller of a game that saw great goals, solid saves, huge hits and splendid end-to-end action, the hometown Dukes eventually pulled out a 4-3 overtime win over the visiting Aurora Tigers on a goal by former Kirkland Lake Gold Miner Brayden Stortz. This first game was a rematch of last year’s Northeast Conference Quarter-Final series between the Dukes and Tigers that Wellington won in six games.
Following player introductions, the new-look Dukes came out with little to no rust or nerves, attacking the Aurora zone early and often. Tigers goaltender Brayden Lachance had to come up with some key saves as a result of Wellington’s surge. Eventually, just under nine minutes in, former Waterloo Siskin Brett Schaefer would get the host crew on the board with a deflection goal off a Brody Morris shot from the point. Tyler Harrison picked up his first OJHL point with an assist as well. Schaefer’s first goal as a Duke and first in the OJHL was the only tally of the first period. Wellington outshot Aurora 17-8.
Period two was another back-and-forth battle with only one goal scored, this one coming at 11:27 from Eric Holland. The former Oakville Blade took a nice dish from Mel Melconian and buried it over Dukes new netminder Connor Ryckman’s left shoulder. Despite getting their chances, neither team could find the back of the net for the remainder of the period. Shots were tied 8-8 and the score tied 1-1 after two.
The Dukes would get period number three off on the right foot, getting the first of two goals from Stortz on a broken play just 54 seconds in. Morris got his second assist of the night with former Jr. B standout Brent House drawing the other helper. The Tigers would rebound again with the help of Lachance’s brilliant goaltending and the breathtaking speed of Melconian, who buried two goals in 17 seconds to give his team the lead. Melconian’s first goal was a shorthanded marker on a quick shot off a face-off past Ryckman’s left pad. Then moments later, he caught a break, burned past the Dukes defenders and deked out Ryckman for the second goal.
Wellington would not go away however, as former Port Hope Panthers forward Evan Foley buried his first OJHL marker on a goalmouth scramble past Lachance with under six minutes left in regulation time. Brooklyn, Michigan native Kyle Prendel and Foley’s teammate in Port Hope Keegan Ferguson drew assists. The Dukes outshot the Tigers 20 to 6 in the period as the game shifted to overtime to set the stage for Stortz’s dramatics.
In overtime, Dukes captain Justin Bean started up the rush out of the zone, Nic Mucci dished to Stortz and the Welland, Ontario native did the rest, toe-dragging and roofing a quick shot over Lachance’s shoulder top shelf, sealing away Wellington’s first victory of the 2016-17 season.
Wellington would outshoot Aurora 48-25 for the game. Morris, Melconian and Stortz earned star honours. These two teams will re-ignite again Sunday night in Aurora in the back end of the “home-and-home” series. Wellington’s next home date will be next Friday as the 2017 Royal Bank National Championship host Cobourg Cougars come to town.