Friday, December 10, 2010


Good Bye to the Grand Old Girl!

It is never easy to say good-bye. But like an old pair of sneakers, the Wellington and District Community Centre on Niles Street is tired, and weary, and the time has come to bid farewell.

That occasion will be this coming Friday night for the Wellington Dukes.

They will take the ice at 7:30pm to play the Cobourg Cougars, seeking a touch of revenge. The Cougars tripped the Dukes up in overtime, last Monday night, ending another incredible string of Dukes’ victories.

There will be seats available at the Duke Dome. Please carry your blankets with you to the rink. The tradition of laying down your comforter to save your place went out the window years ago, but still lives in the hearts and minds of a few faithful. There are more than three hundred season ticket holders for the Dukes, and their seats are designated; understandably, the remaining seats are available on the old “first come, first with your bum on the bench” basis.

There are hundreds of seats available for the first game in the new arena, the Essroc Centre. No hard wooden planks in this palace, thank you. Individual seats for almost a thousand patrons, as well as plenty of standing room. That place will be rocking on Friday, December 17th, when the Dukes host the Whitby Fury in their first game at the new Duke Dome.

The memories flood back from the first days at the old barn. Before it was constructed, funding was achieved in a variety of ways, but none more persistent than a certain Foster Bailey. I am pleased to write that last week I sold Foster a ticket for the Dukes Super Sports Draw. One of the most satisfying moments in my entire life. Most of us have a drawer of losing tickets that we purchased from Foster over the years.

I spent a few years coaching and managing teams in the old barn. “County Kings” went on the road to other venerable barns for a little shinny: Tweed, Douro, Warkworth, Marmora, Madoc, Frankford, Tamworth, Belleville, Trenton, Napanee. The list is not complete. One gets a chill thinking of the conditions in some of those facilities.

I can still see the faces of many of those youngsters, learning the game, making friends, growing. Some were chasing the dream to play at higher levels, perhaps to the National Hockey League. (None ever reached that goal. For the record, no one born and raised in Prince Edward County has ever played one minute in a regular season NHL game. But they all had fun trying!)

We will also cherish our memories of afternoon skates with the family. It has been the home for countless Figure Skating pageants and spectacles over the years. White skates, black skates, blue skates, silver skates; they all cut the ice at the Dome.

As a school teacher and coach in elementary schools in Belleville, I often showed up late for practices for a team I managed at the Bantam level. On one occasion, a parent stormed at me just as I entered the arena. He was upset with the way his son had been treated. I brushed him off, and went to chat with the coach. He reported that the boy had caused trouble all practice: jabbing at the back of his teammates’ legs, whacking helmets, shoving skates to cause players to fall. He spoke with the culprit. He was told where to go, with an emphasis on the “Queen Mother of Swear Words”.

He then told me that the boy needed a little time to cool off, so he put him in the penalty box. I agreed with that decision. Then he added: “I forgot to open the door of the box!” Oops! Lessons learned, all around!

The list of names of Wellington Dukes, and players from other teams is endless. I have often run into young adults from the Toronto area who have fond memories of playing in the Duke Dome. They learned very quickly that the boards at the north end of the arena were quite unforgiving. They learned about “Whiskey Corner”. They learned about team support.

And that will not change in the new building. We will be there. In full force, with our maple syrup cans, and our bright red shirts. Go Dukes Go! Forever!

Bryan Helmer played for the Dukes when they first arrived from Belleville. He has always been a perennial fan favourite. It is expected that he will assist with Opening Ceremonies at the new arena.

James Hurst
7 December 2010

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