In over 65 minutes of high-energy play the Wellesley Applejacks beat back the St. George Dukes on Feb. 11 to win their final regular season game 4-3 in a shootout.
The win put the team’s record at 17-14-4, the 38 points good enough for sixth place in the McConnell Conference of the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League. They now face the third-place Ayr Centennials (22-11-2) in the first round of the playoffs.
Head coach Kevin Fitzpatrick called the game a good way to end the season, noting the team was pumped about its playoff round against Ayr.
“We’re getting back to healthy – we’ve got a little ways to go – but some of our players that have been out were back playing and it went well,” he said of last week’s season-ender.
Even though they were taking shots, the Jacks couldn’t score the first two periods of play, while St. George was able to get past goalie Jordan Bauman once in each frame. Going into the last third of the game, it looked as though this one would turn out like so many recently have for the up-and-down Jacks: with a loss.
The team was able to rally back to make an excellent showing courtesy of Eric Parr scoring a shorthanded goal at 4:04, assisted by Stephen Lewtas. St. George was able to score one more at 8:47, putting Wellesley back by two. With the help of Lewtas and Justin Roeder, Tim Stern shot one past Dukes’ netminder Tanner Armstrong at the 14-minute mark on a powerplay. Rob Hinschberger repeated the move with the assistance of Kevin Howorth and Mark Hamilton a minute later, tying the game at 3-3.
Five minutes of overtime saw no change in the score. In the shootout that followed, all three St. George attempts were rebuffed by Bauman.
“Jordan played really well in net. He shut the door at them and it was a good game,” Fitzpatrick said.
Bauman saved 43 of the 46 shots the Dukes threw at him, just enough to give the Jacks an end-of-season high. Entering the playoffs, Fitzpatrick hopes his team remains focused, saying they need to work on the mental toughness in the high-pressure postseason.
“You’ve got to experience playoffs – it’s a totally different game than the regular season,” he said. “This team hasn’t had that for a number of years. These guys have never experienced what it is to go into a long season.”
Fitzpatrick will be relying on healthier players and special teams to get the Jacks through the first round of the playoffs.
“Our powerplays are very effective and we lead the league in short-handed goals. If you’re going to win these playoff games there’s no doubt about it, you need to excel at your powerplays,” he said.
After opening in Ayr Thursday night, the series moves back to Wellesley tonight (Saturday) for game two. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.