Shawn Fitzpatrick was the overtime hero on Feb. 18, firing home a rebound at 8:32 of the extra frame to lift the Wellesley Applejacks to a 3-2 win over the Ayr Centennials, knotting their best-of-seven series at one game apiece.
The Jacks had previously lost Game 1 in Ayr on Feb. 16 by a score of 5-1. “We played well both games. Game 1 we ran out of legs and they got good goaltending early,” said head coach Kevin Fitzpatrick. “Saturday we played very well again with a limited lineup, and the guys played well without the puck and to me that was the key.”
Wellesley responded to the disappointing series-opening loss with one of their best efforts of the season, and Connor McLeod lifted the Jacks to a 2-0 lead by the end of the first period with a pair of goals just seven minutes apart.
His first, at 11:39, came on the powerplay when he pounced on a rebound from a Tyler Eckert shot and fired it into the top of the net.
McLeod scored again at 18:31 with an unassisted marker after the puck squirted out from behind the Ayr net, he wasted no time in unleashing a hard wrist shot past goaltender Jordan Witt to make it 2-0.
Immediately following the goal, however, Jacks forward Brett Vickers was assessed a crosschecking major for flattening Ayr’s Andrew Richard after the play and he received a 5-minute penalty and a game misconduct.
The Jacks’ penalty killing – goaltender Josh Heer in particular – withstood a barrage of shots and managed to kill it off.
In the second period, Ayr’s Andrew Tapsell took over the game, scoring at 10:17 on a jam play in front of Heer, before tying it up just over four minutes later on a bit of a lucky bounce when a blocked shot ended up on his stick and he fired it into the wide empty net at 14:28.
Despite letting their opponents back into the game, the Jacks’ coach said he was happy with the way the team responded.
“Even before they tied it up, we kind of hit the wall, but there was about three minutes to go in the period where we had back-to-back real strong shifts, and that carried over to the third and the overtime,” said Fitzpatrick.
Both teams were held off the score board in the third, sending the game to overtime, and Wellesley looked determined to not head back to Ayr down 2-0 in the series.
Geoff Par, normally a defender but playing forward due to the number of injuries to the Jacks’ bench, got a rush started by using his big frame to protect the puck from two Ayr defenders. Tyler Eckert made a low shot on goal and Fitzpatrick was there to bang home the rebound past the sprawling keeper to give Wellesley the overtime win.
“Shawn [Fitzpatrick] made a great play to break away from his guy and headed straight to the net,” said the head coach, adding that come playoff time every game is like a chess match, with coaches and players trying to match their opponents every move.
Josh Heer had a terrific bounce-back game after allowing five goals in Game 1, making 45 saves in the victory, perhaps none bigger than the handful he made during a 5-on-3 penalty kill to start the third period.
With up to four injured bodies set to return before the end of the week, the Jacks are waiting to hear back about their captain, Rob Hinschberger, who was injured in the 5-1 defeat in Game 1. Fitzpatrick said it initially looked like a minor crack at the base of his left thumb, but said that the captain was heading to see a specialist this week to know the full extent of the damage.
Game 3 was Thursday evening in Ayr, with results unavailable before press time. Game 4 is scheduled for tonight (Saturday) back in Wellesley at 7:30 p.m.