The rebuilding has gotten off to a good start for the Wellington Dukes.
New head coach Kent Lewis has flown in from British Columbia after a five-year hiatus from the bench and with GM Todd Diminie’s help, has moulded the Prince Edward County junior hockey franchise in his own way.
After an unprecedented offseason where he managed to only get three players that wore a Dukes uniform last season back on the roster in Connor Hunt, Zander Latreille, and Will Mitchell, Lewis said he has been pleased with how quickly the group has come together.
“Practices have been very good. I’ve been very happy,” he stated.
“We had three exhibition games which I think allowed us time to gel and get used to new teammates. There’s going to be nerves, there’s going to be a lot of new faces and in the first game, there’s going to be some jitters, but I think kids are looking forward to it.
“We got down in numbers pretty much right after camp because we really needed to have guys settle in and get to know one another. Not just on the ice, but just off the ice as well.”
In that off-ice portion, the players have been hitting the community to speak to sponsors, schools and fans, and have also been participating in team functions to grow closer as a unit early on.
“Our job is to give them something to be proud of and that’s what we’ve got to work hard to do.”
The aim is to also draw in new supporters and keep building an already strong fanbase.
Building depth and spreading it 20-plus players deep has been the goal for Lewis and Diminie.
Along with local goaltender Nolan Lane, Quinte Red Devils grads Ben Vreugdenhil (cousin of 22-23 Dukes captain Jacob Vregudenhil) and Zack Carrier, along with AP defenceman Rheydon McCoy are locals on the team.
In addition to acquiring high scoring forward Austin Montgomery-Parsons from his home province, Lewis helped to rope in four newcomers from Quebec in tenacious and skilled forward Sacha Trudel, hard-nosed winger Hayden Pimm, shifty Liam Lucas and physical defenceman Dimitri Tzaferis.
Point-per-game Jr. B forward Cory Jewitt, speedy rookie Nick DiPaolo and Barrie Colts 3rd round OHL draft pick Mason Goodfellow are young budding stars to watch up front.
Lewis emphasized the importance of leaving everything on the ice for the fans to appreciate.
“We want people to come here and know what to expect, a night where we can win every night, put on a good effort,” he remarked.
“I don’t want anybody leaving this building – and I take this very seriously and passionately – saying they were undisciplined or didn’t work hard. I don’t want to ever hear those things.”
The Dukes are ready to celebrate their 35th anniversary season on Friday when they welcome in the Toronto Jr. Canadiens to Lehigh Arena at 7:30 p.m.