By Laine Sedore
Wellington Dukes booster Bonnie Thompson has been following the team since the day she was able to walk to the arena.
Thompson now has her own children but she’s still a fan of the Dukes.
“Years ago when I was a teenager we traveled on the bus with the players,” said Thompson. “At the time we didn’t take a fan bus. There are a few gaps of years in between when I had children but I have always been a Dukes’ fan
The Dukes are the perfect example of a small-town hockey with a big-time fan base.
The Dukes have made the playoffs in the Ontario Junior Hockey League for 22 straight seasons. They have played in 41 playoff series in the past 11 years. They also currently hold the record for all Junior A teams in Ontario for the most consecutive 30-win seasons at 12.
In 2003 the Dukes were semi-finalists in the RBC Cup, the national championship.
Although the Dukes have had their fair share of success over the years, one fan says this year wasn’t even suppose to be their year.
This year they are marching toward another national championship berth. They are one win away from capturing the OJHL championship series and moving on to compete for the Buckland Cup and the right to advance to the Dudley Hewitt Cup.
If the Dukes go on to win the Dudley Hewitt, you can be sure to see a large group of screaming fans from Wellington in Camrose, Alberta, for the RBC Cup.
“It was suppose to be a rebuilding year, and of course every year is always a rebuilding year but they have just done so well,” said Pierre Lebrun who billets players in his home.
Lebrun, a chiropractor, has been a Dukes fan since he moved from Toronto 10 years ago.
“I had a practice in Toronto, and one of my patients was a member of the Waxford Raiders and the parents and he had come and said they had to take off to Wellington for a game. I said ‘where’s Wellington and what is it’ they said it’s a junior A team and the fans there are just crazy you have to come and see a game in Wellington because the fans dominate the whole thing,” said Lebrun.
One memory sticks well with Thompson.
“When we realized for the first time in 2003 that the boys were going to get a chance to go to the Dudley for the first time – that game was an all time high,” Thompson said.
Todd Lavender, one of hundreds of Dukes fans, says the crowd plays a large part in the Dukes success.
“Without the crowd and the support from the businesses here in Prince Edward County there wouldn’t be a team that could function in a market the size of Wellington,” said Dukes sponsor Todd Lavender. “So the community is certainly a big part of that and the fan base, I’m sure if you ask any player in the league they’d prefer to play in front of 500 to 700 people a night instead of 10 to 25 people you get in the some of the bigger cities.”
The old Duke Dome, which was home to the Dukes for many years, gave way to the new ESSROC Centre this year. But Thompson will never forget where she watched so many Dukes games.
“The atmosphere at the old Duke Dome, you could look and see who was missing, now in our new arena it’s bigger you don’t see everyone. At the old arena you knew who was missing and it’s just different, but we do love our new arena.” said Thompson.
“I remember back when we went to Charlottetown for the RBC, which we drove down 17 hours straight, so I think the RBC is within reach but we haven’t got that far yet, we take one step at a time, but we will definitely be going to the Dudley in Huntsville.”