It’s taken them a month to get there, but home ice seems to agree with the Wellesley Applejacks this season.
After playing the first three games of their 2010/ 2011 schedule on the road, the Jacks opened their home portion of the schedule last weekend with back-to-back victories over the Hagersville Hawks, and the Port Dover Sailors.
The original home-opener scheduled for Oct. 9 had been scrapped due to bad ice.
“It feels like months ago that we started training camp,” said head coach Kevin Fitzpatrick. “It was pretty frustrating for everybody.”
The Jacks opened with a dominant 6-1 performance over the slumping Hagersville Hawks. They skated hard from the get-go, and hit everything in sight. It was a welcome turn of events for the coach, whose team had last played back on Oct. 1, a 7-4 loss to Delhi.
“I was a little nervous after the layoff, but we came out hard and I think we caught them off guard with our speed in the first period, and they were playing catch-up all game.”
Justin Roeder opened the scoring with his third goal of the campaign just 4:30 into the game.
Skating down the middle of the ice, he unleashed a wicked wrist shot into the top corner. Ben Ahier and Rob Hinschberger collected the assists.
Hagersville tied it up a little less than four minutes later with some hard work down low. The Hawks were in the Wellesley zone for almost an entire minute with the Jacks unable to clear it, and David Watson made them pay at 8:08 by shoveling the puck past a sprawling Kurt Martin.
The tie was short-lived, however when Shawn Fitzpatrick potted his third goal of the season at 11:18 of the first. Corey Way and Michael Forster drew the assists. The shots at the end of the first period were close, 12-11 in favour of Wellesley.
To start the second period, the Hawks made a change in goal, with Dylan Appleby playing the remainder of the game instead of starter Jordan Ironside.
The second period opened much like the first, with the Jacks using their speed to win one-on-one battles for the puck and win races for loose pucks.
Eric Parr showed off that speed with an unassisted shorthanded goal at 14:24 by putting a nice deke move on the goalie and tucking it past his left pad.
For the rest of the game, the Jacks forechecked ferociously and used their speed to cause turnovers and wreak havoc in the Hawks’ end.
Defenceman Stephen Lewtas, who was tremendous all night leading the attack from the blue line and hustling back to break up plays, scored his first goal of the season at 19:15 on a nifty pass from Mitch Metzger behind the net, wristing it top corner. Kevin Howorth picking up the other assist.
Hinschberger and Howorth closed out the scoring in the third period, with assists to Ahier, Josh Herd, and Bobby Gray. The final shots for the game were 36-30 in favour of Hagersville, and Kurt Martin collected the win with 35 saves.
“The big thing for us was Kurt Martin finally came back and played,” explained Fitzpatrick about his goaltender. “He’s been injured since the latter part of June, and I thought he had a great game in goal.”
Another bright spot on the night was the Jacks’ special-teams. They went one for three on the powerplay, and killed off all 12 of their penalties, including a 5-on-3 to start the third period where they limited the Hawks to one shot on goal.
“I think Hagersville have one of the better power plays in the league, and to kill off 12 penalties and a 5-on-3. If you get good goaltending and get good special teams, you should win, and we did.”
The Jacks were dangerous on the penalty kill all night, highlighted by that shorthanded goal by Parr, but other Jacks had great scoring chances as well, including Way and Lewtas.
The next night the Jacks faced off against the winless Port Dover Sailors in their second head-to-head match of the young season. The Jacks won the first game handily by a score of 10-2 back on Sept. 26, and looked poised to repeat the drubbing on Saturday night.
Ahier opened the scoring at 4:31 of the first, assisted by Roeder and Hinschberger. The Jacks would strike again just a few moments later, when Way scored from Lewtas.
Their quick start was soon erased, however, when the Jacks got into penalty trouble. The Sailors’ Nigel McRae cut the deficit to one with a powerplay goal at 10:44 of the first.
Mitch Metzger restored the two-goal lead at 14:17 from Josh Herd, but the Sailors kept coming and Garrett Bolle scored on the powerplay, making it a 3-2 game at the end of the first.
“We got off to a good start, and then took five straight penalties,” said Fitzpatrick. “All bad, all lazy penalties. I think we thought ‘well we’re going to blow these guys out again,’ and they came back.”
Port Dover drew even at 8:48 of the second period before Lewtas put the Jacks up for good with his second goal in two nights at 18:57, assisted by Parr and Matt Aspden.
The third period, however, marked a dramatic turnaround for the Jacks. They scored five goals in the frame, led by a pair of goals from Justin Milne. Lewtas and Ahier also potted their second goal of the game each, and Spencer Aspden rounded out the scoring at 18:06.
Fitzpatrick credits his entire team for the impressive third period turnaround. He says that their strong play all night and willingness to shoot – they ended up with 54 shots – simply wore out Port Dover goalie James Kerst.
“The kid played great,” Fitzpatrick said of Kerst. “I think the difference was […] he just got exhausted and hit the wall in the second period and in the third. We just kept coming at them and coming at them. Quite frankly they deserved a better fate than 9-3.”
The win pushed the Jacks record to 3-2, and after a slow start to the season appear to be putting it all together. Their penalty kill is ranked fifth in the league at 85.71 per cent, and their powerplay is ranked third, at 20.83 per cent.
Although the season is still young, Fitzpatrick is confident.
“I don’t think there’s a really weak team in our league. Anybody on any given night can win. There seems to be a lot of buzz in town around the team, and hopefully more people will come out.”
The Jacks’ next game is tonight at home against the Burford Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m.