Article by N. Schoonderbeek/Media by C. Archer
The Clarington Eagles spent most of their season in first place in the Orr Division of the Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL). While much of the team has been together since the start of the season, a couple of additions to the team at the January trade deadline strengthened the team roster and their push for first place heading into the playoffs. Defenceman Cole Williamson was acquired from the Lindsay Muskies, quickly followed by the acquisition of goaltender Jude Rondina from the Georgina Ice.
A hometown Clarington boy from Hampton, Williamson “knows all the guys on the team and wanted to come back to play with his hometown team and produce,” said defence coach Jamie Showers. But the expectation was that he would bring more than just camaraderie, as the team was looking to take advantage of Williamson’s good hockey IQ and maturity, and provide a Junior A presence.
Williamson, who turned 20 shortly after he joined the team, shared that he just decided it was time to come home. “I’ve been watching the Eagles since last year in playoffs. It’s a strong team this year; I think some Junior A teams could get a run for their money,” he said before his first game. “I grew up with half the guys on the team, particularly Shaw, Manarin, Aitken, and Dupuis.”
While Williamson was hoping for a big win in his first game with the team, that was not to be as the Eagles fell 4-1 to the Georgina Ice following their holiday break. But that was not a sign of things to come as he went on to play 14 regular season games and brought an impressive 10 points for the team, including a power play goal.
Williamson has largely been paired with his long-time friend and teammate, Jake Dupuis. “It was different because I haven’t played with him in a lot of years,” said Dupuis after their first game together. “We actually played together our first year of hockey as defence partners in Timbit hockey. We’ve been playing D in summer hockey throughout the years too, so it’s been good.”
The Clarington goaltending team this year was built from scratch, and had some big shoes to fill with the departure of overager Alex Lepizzera after the 2022 Schmalz Cup run. The team cycled through some goalies before deciding on fan favourite Marc-Olivier Robert and then adding 2002-born Rondina.
Rondina made his game debut on Saturday, January 14, when the Eagles defeated the Little Britain Merchants 6-3. When asked about his reaction to being traded to Clarington, Rondina expressed surprise upon receiving the trade call. “But it was super exciting news. It took me not even 15 minutes to make my decision. I was coming here and want to make a run with these guys. I’m willing to put in the hard work to make a good run here,” he said.
He made good on that early promise to work hard and has provided a calm and confident presence for the team. His efforts have also earned him several awards, including the Hoopers player of the month award for February, the PJHL Orr Division player of the month for January, and the 2022-23 PJHL Orr Division most valuable goalie award.
Of course, when traded to a team in the same division it can be nerve wracking playing against former teammates. Rondina faced his former team, the Georgina Ice, for the first time on February 4. The Ice were hot on a 10-game winning streak at the time, which ended for them that night. “Jude played a great game against his old team,” said head coach Dean Baumhauer. “He was involved in their win streak when he played there, and now he’s the guy that ended it.”
With these changes in place, the Clarington Eagles finalized their winning roster and placed themselves as front runners in the playoffs. Tonight they continue with their first round playoff series against the Lakefield Chiefs in Lakefield, but are back at home tomorrow (Sunday) night for a 7:25 pm puck drop.