After his team split a home-and-home series with the Norwich Merchants last weekend, Wellesley Applejacks head coach Paul Wilkinson says things are heading in the right direction.
“We’re getting better,” he said. “It’s a work in progress, and it was tough on Friday because we were missing a few guys. But when some of the guys got back into the lineup for Saturday night’s game, we started to see the team play better defensively.”
The Jacks scuffled through the first seven games of the season – all on the road to accommodate the Apple Butter and Cheese Festival – but improved to 3-5 with a 3-2 win in the home-opener last Saturday.
“I think the guys enjoyed playing in our home rink,” Wilkinson said. “Anytime you’re on the road for that long, it’s tough. It’s not pleasant going through a long stretch playing in other people’s arenas, with their fans.”
A packed Wellesley arena was treated to an exciting home opener.
Applejacks captain Reid Denstedt opened the scoring at the 14-minute mark in the first with a power play goal, assisted by Matt Schick and Cal Jeffries.
The home side gave one back three minutes into the third to Norwich’s Jordan Gillis, but quickly regained the lead on a marker by Jake Wilkinson (Paul Morra, Sean McEwan).
After being stopped on a penalty shot 6:07 into the final frame, Denstedt found the back of the net with another power play goal at 12:03. And it was a key goal, because just 15 seconds later the Merchant’s Troy Lamoure beat Tim Bester to cut the lead to one.
That’s as close as they would get though, as Bester shut the door the rest of the way, making 32 saves on the night.
“I think our defence played more solid and our goaltending was very good,” Wilkinson said. “Reid Denstedt has really picked it up as well. It was a good performance by the whole team.”
The night prior, it was Norwich who maintained home ice advantage for a narrow 5-4 victory.
“It was back and forth the whole game,” Wilkinson said. “We scored a goal with less than a minute left, but it was called back. So it was that close.”
Jeffries (Justin Lebold, Tysen Willemsen) scored the game’s first goal just over a minute in, but the Applejacks surrendered the next two.
Sean McEwan tied things up for Wellesley at 16:14 into the first period as an extra attacker on a delayed penalty call from Eric Heffernan and Mackenzie Sealy.
In the second, Norwich scored twice, while Denstedt netted one goal for the Jacks (Cole Madge).
Jeffries tied the game up two minutes into the third, but Derek Slaght scored the winner for Norwich on the power play at 8:07.
The split leaves Wellesley in seventh place in the Midwestern Junior C Hockey League, ahead of just Norwich and Delhi.
But Wilkinson remains positive, as the club heads into back to back home games this weekend (Saturday 7:30 p.m., against Ayr and Sunday 7:30 p.m. versus Tavistock).
“The group is really starting to come together and now that we’re starting to play some home games, I think we have a good shot at putting some points on the board.”