Despite matching up well against the Ayr Centennials in the first two games of their first round SOJHL playoff series, the sixth-seeded Wellesley Applejacks found themselves down two games to none after back-to-back 5-2 losses last week.
Game two was decided in a one-minute span at the end of the second period. Head coach Kevin Fitzpatrick said phantom calls against the Jacks in the third period of game-one was a major contributor to their loss.
“It was a pretty close game up until the third period when the referee decided the game,” said Fitzpatrick.
“He gave four phantom calls in a row to us to put us down 5-on-3.”
On Feb. 17, Wellesley – playing in their first playoff game in two seasons – were down by only one, 3-2, heading into the third thanks to second-period goals from Michael Forster (Matt Aspden, Eric Parr) and captain Rob Hinschberger (Mark Hamilton, Justin Roeder).
In the third, however, Wellesley’s Justin Milne and Stephen Lewtas were penalized 14 seconds apart to put the Jacks down by two men. Ayr scored on the subsequent 5-on-3 to go up 4-2, effectively squashing any hopes of a comeback en route to the 5-2 win on home ice.
“I don’t think you’ll ever hear me blame refereeing, but this was just so bad, and if you look at the game sheet it is totally inconsistent with the first two periods,” said a frustrated Fitzpatrick.
Last Saturday night, the Jacks returned home to Wellesley for game-two of the series and appeared poised to even it up early on. Justin Roeder opened the scoring just 12 seconds into the first on a nice slap shot set up by Tim Stern and Mark Hamilton.
That early momentum was erased on the very next shift, however, when Ayr hemmed the Jacks in their own zone for nearly a minute, and tied it up at 1:07.
Wellesley’s Matt Aspden regained the one-goal lead at 5:41 from Lewtas on a bit of a lucky bounce when Aspden’s dump-in hit the end boards at an odd angle and went in off the Ayr keeper’s skate.
The Centennials would tie it up before the end of the first, however, on a lucky bounce of their own when the puck hit a skate behind the net and squirted out into the goal crease. Jacks keeper Jordan Bauman expected the puck to come out the other side and was completely out of position when it ended up in his crease, where Ayr’s Declan Kaster tapped it in.
“They scored a fluky goal and we scored a fluky goal. We’re two very evenly matched teams; we’re just not playing quite as much of a disciplined system as they are,” said Fitzpatrick.
The second period was much closer with tight checking and hard hits throughout, that is until the final minute when Ayr scored two quick goals 38 seconds apart to take a 4-2 lead into the third period.
Fitzpatrick stressed the team needed to be more disciplined in those tight games.
“I had my top line on the ice when the fourth goal went in, and it was against their third line. That shouldn’t happen. And their third goal was one of our top lines against their fourth line. We didn’t cover our man, we had a chance to clear the puck and instead we tried to carry it out and turned the puck over.
You just can’t do that against the good teams.”
No doubt the Jacks are showing some early jitters in the playoffs – the team missed the playoffs last season, and Fitzpatrick said that only three others remain from the team’s abbreviated first-round exit back in 2009.
The Jacks also went 4-1 against Ayr during the regular season, including a hard-fought 3-2 win back on Feb. 4.
“They were nervous, and you’ve got to learn to win in the playoffs – it’s a different season,” said Fitzpatrick of his team. “They were definitely uptight, but so was Ayr. We’ve played with them or better than them for five out of six periods of hockey, but they’re a good team and that’s why they finished third.”
Game-three of the series was Thursday night in Ayr (results weren’t available at press time). The teams are in Wellesley tonight (Saturday) for the fourth game. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
Expect Jordan Bauman to play in goal for the Jacks for the balance of the playoffs after Fitzpatrick said that goalie Kurt Martin, who played in game one of the series despite an injury, would miss the remainder of the year.