The Wellington Dukes dream season has come to a dissapointing ending in the RBC Cup national final.
The Dukes dropped a 4-2 decision to the host Chilliwack Chiefs at Prospera Centre Sunday night after holding a lead through 40 minutes of play.
The Dukes came out with a blazing start and got rewarded for the speed and pressure they applied by getting a goal just 90 seconds into the contest. Teddy McGeen received a perfect centering pass from Andrew Rinaldi and slid the puck through Chiefs goaltender Daniel Chenard while being knocked to the ice.
The tally was McGeen’s second of the RBC Cup tournament.
Chilliwack was able to slowly wrestle away momentum from the Dukes by the end of the first frame with some good chances on Jonah Capriotti and were able to carry over its steady play to the second.
Early in the middle stanza, the Chiefs were able to get a fortunate break when Kaden Pickering tipped an accurate pass from Corey Andonovski into an open Dukes cage to knot the score at a goal apiece. Michigan State commit and son of former NHL’er Rod Brind’Amour Skylar Brind’Amour added a second assist.
Following a late penalty, Wellington’s PK units and Capriotti shielded off some great opportunities for the Chiefs and eventually caught a break of their own. Canisius College commitment Mitchell Martan found a lane to skate through, cut to the middle of the offensive zone uncontested, waited for Chenard to open up and slid the puck underneath him for the go-ahead marker and his first of the tournament. The shorthanded goal came with exactly one minute to play in the frame and propelled the Dukes to the lead with 20 minutes remaining.
Chilliwack was not willing to go down that easily however. The host team turned on another gear early in the third with goals two minutes apart from a pair of Ontario products. Will Calverley of Scarborough deflected a Bryan Allbee point shot past Capriotti to tie the game, then Uxbridge product Andonovski slid his own rebound off a Dukes defender through Capriotti’s legs to put Chilliwack in the lead. That second tally proved to be the eventual championship-clinching goal.
The Chiefs added some much-needed insurance on an unfortunate bounce off the end boards inside Wellington’s end. On a transfer from Geoff Lawson to Mason Snell behind the net, the puck took a jolt out from beneath the icing line and landed on the stick of PJ Morrocco, who set up Tommy Lee for his first of the tournament. The goal to make it 4-2 came at 12:20 of the third period.
Wellington put a few pucks on the Chilliwack net the rest of the way, but weren’t able to pierce Chenard’s armour and the Chiefs eventually wound down the clock to officially lock up their first RBC Cup title in franchise history on home ice in front of a loud group of fans in the Fraser Valley in B.C.
Final shots favoured Chilliwack 35-26.
This year’s edition of the Wellington Dukes become the second Quinte-area junior team to finish as national runner-ups, following the 1981 Jr. A Belleville Bulls, who fell to the Prince Albert Raiders in what was then known as the Centennial Cup final.
Meantime, Chilliwack becomes the second straight host team and third in the last four years to claim National Junior A hockey supremacy, following the Cobourg Cougars (2017) and Portage, Manitoba Terriers (2015).
After overcoming tons of adversity (two coaching changes, new ownership, suspensions, tough losses, series deficits, etc.), the Dukes sheer resilience, grit and determination got them to within one win from a national title. Memorable moments from the season included: an East Division title, a Northeast Conference championship, a Buckland Cup OJHL championship and a Dudley Hewitt Cup Central Region title, along with multiple commitments and scholarships to NCAA and USports schools for individual players.
Legions of passionate fans in the “Dukes Army” continued to support them throughout the year, right down to the final buzzer. After one of the most successful seasons in franchise history, the organization will look to put the dissapointment of this loss behind them shortly and get set to plan for the 2018-19 season, which the organization is hoping will be another season of glory.