A tall task is facing the Wellington Dukes in rebuilding its roster for the 2023-24 OJHL season.
Thankfully, the organization has one of the British Columbia Hockey League’s winningest coaches secured to help complete this unenviable task.
Kent Lewis, 56, spent years with the Powell River Kings, Nanaimo Clippers, and Victoria Salsa (now Grizzlies), and returns behind a Junior A bench for the first time since 2018.
His track record is a strong one, with an overall winning percentage of .629 in more than 1,000 games, along with three BCHL coach of the year awards and a gold medal with Team Canada West at the 2011 World Junior A Challenge.
After finishing his junior hockey playing career in 1987, the Powell River native said he was initially thinking about playing semi-professional or European hockey, until a team relocation changed everything.
“In 1988, the (then Paper Kings) relocated from Delta to Powell River, and I was asked to be an assistant coach, when I was still thinking about playing,” he said.
“It wasn’t until I think our head coach got suspended and I did six games behind the bench, and it really hit me – I just fell in love with it. From that point on, I didn’t feel like playing, I just stayed coaching. It was something I just really took to.”
Though this is his first foray into coaching in Ontario, Lewis said he has seen and heard of Wellington’s solid development reputation while being out west.
“It’s got strong alumni and it’s a proud program going through an interesting time right now, with the developments and everything that’s happened,” he said.
With only a few returning players, Lewis equated this offseason’s work to building an expansion-like lineup.
“The bonus is Wellington is one of the stronger programs in Ontario, with one of the most passionate knowledgeable fan bases, with one of the best arenas (in the league),” he noted.
“There’s so many positives for kids to look at.”
Lewis said he wants to meet with the fans, players and billets face-to-face and provide an opportunity to build relationships and extoll his philosophy of building a team based on stability.
“The knowledgeable fans are going to realize this is going to be a process and it’s going to be ongoing for quite a while to build this hockey club,” Lewis acknowledged.
“There’s so many phases to a season. We’re going to be cognizant of building our roster throughout (the season) and the tricky part will be without having that revolving door at the dressing room door.”
One returning player that has committed to the Dukes’ for next season is 20-year old defenceman JH Lages.
The Mclean, Virginia product was announced by the club on Thursday as being Wellington’s first signee after posting 11 points in 31 games for the East division-winning Dukes in 2022-23.
The Dukes will be holding a prospects camp sometime in July to get an up-close look at some budding local and out-of-town talent.
“I’ve had challenges before that were considered extreme and I embraced them,” he said when referring to rebuilding the club after seeing many pootentially-returning players be moved out.
“It can be enjoyable, it’s stressful, but it’s enjoyable. This one here is, is probably as interesting as the others, maybe more so. It’s going to take a team to do it. It’s going to be hard work and that’s something I’ve never been afraid of.”
Lewis and the Dukes will be holding an identification camp on July 29 at the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre in Belleville to seek out potential talent for the 2023-24 OJHL season.
Keep tabs on the Dukes website for more information on that as it becomes available.