Another season came to a close for the Wellesley Applejacks following their 5-3 loss to the Ayr Centennials Mar. 3. But they certainly didn’t go without a fight, forcing game five back in Ayr with a thrilling 7-6 overtime win on Feb. 26.
In what would be the final match, however, the Centennials proved they had forgotten that loss by building an early 2-0 lead over the Jacks on goals from Declan Kaster at 8:57 and Andrew Tapsell at 15:23 of the first period, with the Jacks’ Shawn Fitzpatrick closing the gap to one with his first goal of the playoffs at 17:04 assisted by Kevin Howorth.
Fitzpatrick would score again 7:43 into the second period to tie the game briefly, from Howorth and Mark Hamilton, but the tie was short-lived. Ayr’s Tyler Gauthier restored the one-goal lead just 30 seconds later on the powerplay with Justin Roeder in the box for slashing.
Ayr scored another at 9:54 of the second and added a fifth at 18:15 to go up 5-2 and put the game out of reach heading into the third.
Wellesley’s Matt Aspden would score the final tally of the Jacks season at 13:54 from Chris Bauman to make it 5-3, but that’s as close as they would come.
Jordan Bauman made 37 saves in the loss.
“I think we played well, the guys gave it a good effort, but in the long run they were healthier and a little more disciplined than we were,” said Fitzpatrick of the series with Ayr. “We played catch-up that whole series, and that was the difference.”
The Jacks held the lead in the series for only 21:25, and only managed to win one game – game four – in overtime. They were also outshot in each of the five games as well, 229-164 overall.
After failing to make the playoffs last year, and their quick four-game exit the season prior, the Jacks had high-hopes heading into the 2010-2011 season. They started out well, posting a 9-5-3 record by Dec. 3 to put them near the top of the McConnell Conference standings.
However, Fitzpatrick can pinpoint the exact day where the team’s season began to go south, finishing the second half with an 8-9-1 record and a 17-14-4 record overall, good for sixth in the conference with 38 points.
“The turning point for our season was Dec. 3 (a 4-3 loss to Delhi). We had three or four guys go out with separated shoulders that night, so all of a sudden instead of being healthy we had all those injuries and it was just one after another after that.”
In all, 10 Jacks players suffered separated shoulders throughout the year, and neither goaltender Kurt Martin (hip injury) or Jordan Bauman (groin) was at 100 per cent all season, either.
“(Martin) missed the first month of the season, and he re-injured himself at Christmas time, and it never healed,” explained Fitzpatrick, “Jordan played really well down the stretch […] but he was fighting a groin injury and some nights it loosened up and other nights he couldn’t even go down onto his knees.”
Only one skater, Matt Aspden, played in all 35 games this year, while key contributors like captain Rob Hinschberger (29 games played), defenceman Stephen Lewtas (24 games played), and rookie of the year Michael Forster (25 games played) each missed significant time. There were only two games all season where Fitzpatrick could ice his entire starting lineup, he said.
It wasn’t just injury either, but illnesses made their way through the Jacks dressing room and hampered their performance this season as well.
“Corey Way, our leading scorer, went out with mono two weeks before the playoffs (and) Josh Herd set up the overtime winner (in game four), and he’s got pneumonia. It’s just one thing after another,” Said Fitzpatrick.
The coach is optimistic about moving forward next season, however. Their 10-win and 18-point improvement over last year’s 7-23-6 record, as well as their competitive five-game series against Ayr should be good preparation for next years team, and the head coach is also expecting less turnover than the end of last year as well.
The team replaced 15 skaters from last year’s team, but the coach said he only expects to replace eight to 10 this year, including over-agers Read Shantz, Kurt Martin, Eric Parr, and Matt Aspden who are not eligible to play Junior next season.
The team is also in talks with the Elmira Sugar Kings to arrange a rookie camp next year as well prior to the start of the season, and Fitzpatrick says that their scouting of AAA and high school teams is going to pay off next season as well.
“We’ve got guys calling us that are good hockey players, and we brought a lot of quality into the program this year.
“We had a lot of positives this year, we felt we were good enough to go on a run, but we didn’t. We’ll re-tool, re-load, and go again next year.”