The St. George Dukes hockey squad is moving up.
The team will join the Ontario Hockey Association’s Niagara District Junior C Eastern Conference for the upcoming season.
Brian Shouldice, the team’s general manager said recent events in OHA circles allowed the change to occur.
“There is an opportunity to make the jump this year to Junior C because the (former) Brantford Golden Eagles will now be playing in Caledonia,” Shouldice said. “That left an opening in the Niagara District Junior C division.”
The Dukes’ shift up from the league’s Junior D division was celebrated by the team’s players, coaches, management and supporters, during a barbecue meet and greet event held at the South Dumfries Arena and Community Centre on Saturday afternoon.
The event drew about 100 people, including Washington Capitals head coach, Adam Oates, a longtime friend of the Dukes’ former head coach, Rick Wrobel.
“I came out to show my support,” Oates said.
Starting next month, the Dukes will face off against the likes of the division’s defending 2011-2012 Schmalz Cup champions, the Grimsby Peach Kings, in addition to other eastern conference teams, including the Dundas Blues, Glanbrook Rangers, Chippewa Riverhawks and Dunnville Mudcats.
St. George will also take on the division’s western conference squads, including the Paris Mounties, Norwich Merchants, Woodstock Navy Vets, New Hamburg Firebirds, Simcoe Storm and Aylmer Spitfires, throughout the season.
Shouldice said the Dukes are in for a fight when they move up to Junior C.
“It’s going to be tough,” Shouldice said. “Every level you move up, it gets tougher.
“We sign 20 players each year and about half of them are returning players.”
Dukes’ head coach Rockie Bradshaw said he is looking forward to the upcoming season in a higher division.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be good,” Bradshaw said. “We will focus on skill development and work ethic.
“I think it’s good for the community because it will bring more focused players with more commitment and that will impact the community. We hope to attract more fans and it will be a faster game.”
This season marks Dukes’ player Tanner Armstrong’s third year playing with the team. He said he can’t wait to begin.
“It will be a lot of competition,” Armstrong, 21, said. “Before this, I played with the Paris Mounties in the Junior C division, so I know the type of competition we’re up against.
“It will be about playing as a unit and sticking to our strength as a team.”
Mark Bullard, scout for the Dukes, said he will be looking to bring the best players onto the team.
“I will be checking everything from midget leagues to high school teams in the Cambridge and Brantford areas,” Bullard said. “We need to find the players that will benefit the St. George Dukes both on and off the ice.”
The Dukes will hold tryouts beginning on Aug. 28 at the Brant Sports Complex.
The team will play its season home opener and first game as a Junior C team against the Grimsby Peach Kings at the South Dumfries Arena and Community Centre on Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Visit www.stgeorgedukes.com for tryout sessions, schedules and more information about the team.