JASON PARKS Picton Gazette – EDITOR
It won’t be an easy road for the Wellington Dukes in their 35th season of playing Junior A hockey in Prince Edward County.
And their new bench boss probably wouldn’t want it any other way.
Kent Lewis spoke to the Gazette last week about where he’s coming from, his connections to Dukes owner Ken Clement dating back to their days slugging it out in the BCHL and what local fans can expect from his hockey club in 2023-24.
The Powell River, BC native who will turn 57 on the eve of the upcoming season has been a hockey mainstay in his home community and the “Left Coast’ for nearly all his life. After playing nearly 100 games of Major Junior hockey with the Victoria Cougars in the Western Hockey League over the course of three seasons in the mid-80’s, Mr. Lewis started his coaching career with the hometown Kings in 1989, the same year the Wellington Dukes transitioned from the old St. Lawrence Jr. C league to the Metro Junior A Hockey League.
While deeply involved in the BCHL, Lewis explained the honour to step behind the home bench at Lehigh Arena was not lost on him.
“When you are involved in the Jr. A game, you are always aware of the top programs across Canada and Wellington is certainly that. So getting the opportunity to come in and be a part of this legacy is something I’m excited about,” Lewis said.
On a visit to Prince Edward County earlier this month, Lewis toured the new Dukedome and noted the a top rate facility he will be organizing and coaching from.
“It’s a great facility and I was able to speak with some of the rink staff. They all become part of the team in their roles as the season wears on and I was really impressed with the entire setup,” the coach said.
After being away from the game for a period of time, Lewis was on the bench last season coaching a U18 squad and helping out with some minor hockey teams around Powell River. While the break from the Jr.A game might not have been his idea to start with, he said the hiatus was good for his own personal development.
“I’m a hockey coach but sometimes it’s beneficial to step away from hockey because the sport can consume you in a lot of different ways. Being outside the game for a while, you learn and grow as a person and now I’m ready to get back into it,” Mr Lewis said.
In speaking with the Gazette, a number of Jr. A operators noted it will be a rare occurrence when a Kent Lewis-coached team will be outworked. A tactician who expects 100 per cent effort every night from his lineup, the new coach said this level of hockey is good for a number of aspects including development for higher levels of hockey but also for preparing young men for life after hockey.
“In a lot of ways, this is going to be like an expansion team,” said Mr. Lewis, pointing to the low number of players on the roster. “It’s going to be challenging and there’s going to be life lessons along the way. But there’s a great tradition of excellence and a wonderful fan base in Wellington, so it’s going to be exciting and fun to rise to the occasion and honour that legacy.”
Speaking of his playing days, the coach met up with the Wellington owner first in the 1983-84 season when they were both swinging sticks with the Nanaimo Clippers.
“Ken was a veteran and I was a rookie and I remember he and I did a lot of the fighting that year,” the coach said with a laugh. “Ken was a guy who played with a ton of passion, had a strong heart and was a great teammate.”
The two would reconnect in 2000 when Lewis was coaching Clement and the Powell River Regals in the BC Senior Hockey League and they shared in the Allan Cup championship in Lloydminster, SK that year.
Then a phone call out of the blue caught Mr. Lewis off guard. The ask was to come riding out of the west to pick up the pieces of Mr. Clement’s Jr. A franchise in Ontario.
“Building the Wellington Dukes from the ground up has to be my focus and I can’t really comment on what transpired before I got there other than to say I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years,” Mr Lewis said. “My sole focus has to be the present and now. It’s going to be a lot work: we’ve got two years of recruiting to do in a month and a half but you’ve got a great fan base that expects to be entertained and expects an honest, hard working team and that’s what we are going to build here in Wellington.”