After nearly a month between wins, and only three games left on the schedule, the Wellesley Apple Jacks have picked perhaps the worst time of the season to endure a seven-game losing skid.
The team’s two latest setbacks came Jan. 28, a 7-1 loss in Delhi, and Jan. 30, an equally humbling 6-1 defeat at home to the Tavistock Braves.
The losses have led Wellesley into a freefall down the standings. Their record now sits at 15-13-4, good for sixth in the McConnell Conference.
“We’ve got to turn this thing around. We’re in sixth place now, and on Dec. 3 we were playing for second,” said a frustrated head coach Kevin Fitzpatrick. “We could still finish fourth, but we just need to work our way out of it and create something. Make something happen.”
The Jacks certainly didn’t make anything happen on the road against Delhi. They were down 3-0 just past the halfway mark of the first period, and didn’t even get on the scoreboard until 13:08 of the third period when Michael Forster scored on the powerplay from Tim Stern and Stephen Lewtas, but by then they were already down by five, with virtually no hope of a comeback.
Fitzpatrick said that his team has not only had to fight injuries, but a run of bad luck and good goaltending as well.
“[Delhi’s] goalie stood on his head and made some unbelievable saves to keep it 3-0, and in the second period we really took it to them. He made four or five key saves in the first and second period that we should have scored, then our guys got down and thought ‘oh man we’re never going to beat this guy.’”
Sunday afternoon presented a less-than-golden opportunity to break their losing streak when they faced off against their arch-rivals, the Tavistock Braves, at home. The Braves are leading the division and had beaten the Jacks in their previous four meetings by a combined score of 20-12.
Tavistock would strike first on Sunday at 14:09 of the first when the puck took a fluky bounce off the glass and landed in the crease of Jacks keeper Jordan Bauman, where it was shoveled home by Blair Mackay.
“It happened three times in the game. I thought we knew our boards and glass pretty well, but someone has some rubber glass out there or something,” said Fitzpatrick about the goal.
Wellesley would storm back, however, and Justin Roeder tied it up just nine seconds later, with an assist from Michael Forster. The goal seemed to get Wellesley back in the game and for the remainder of the period, and much of the second, the two teams played fairly evenly.
However two late goals by Tavistock at 15:02 and 19:45 of the second deflated the team and sent them into the dressing room down by two heading into the third.
“When they scored the second goal we were still in pretty good shape, but once they got the third goal the guys were down and that was it,” said Fitzpatrick. “If they scored and went up by two early in the second it would have been a different game, but the guys kind of got down on themselves and they looked like they were at a funeral during the second intermission.”
The third showed exactly how low the Jacks had gone when Tavistock went on to score three unanswered goals on their way to a 6-1 victory, running Wellesley’s losing streak to seven games.
Perhaps more troubling than the losing streak itself is the lack of offence. Through the first half of the season, the Jacks were among the top-scoring teams in the league. Of late, with only 14 goals in their last seven games – including being shutout twice – the scoring has simply dried up.
“How we can be one of the highest scoring teams in the league, to where we are now, is beyond me. That’s the million-dollar question,” said Fitzpatrick. He added that the team has been working on getting some healthy body’s back in the lineup, and they have been trying some different things in practice, particularly on the powerplay.
The road to the playoffs doesn’t get much easier from Wellesley this weekend, either. After facing the third-place Ayr Centennials Friday, the Jacks travel to Hagersville Saturday night to take on the second-place Hawks, who boast the league’s leading scorer in Derek Medeiros (67 points in just 31 games).