The Wellesley Applejacks treated their fans to a tight battle right to the end on Sunday in their first matchup of 2016.
Facing the Woodstock Navy Vets, the Jacks fought through three periods and two overtime frames to finish the game 3-3.
“I thought for the first game back after Christmas the guys competed hard,” said head coach Brad Gerber. “They worked hard and competed. Obviously we didn’t finish very well around the net, but overall we’re pleased. We got a point against a team that’s battling with us for fourth place and we’re pleased as a coaching staff.”
Woodstock’s Chris Thompson scored less than 90 seconds into the game on a power play, while Wellesley’s Brenden Goran was in the penalty box for interference. Navy Vets assists were Tyler Arsenault and Dylan Wettlaufer.
But Goran redeemed himself at the 5:26 mark, tying up the game, helped by Nathan Schlupp.
The Navy Vets took advantage of another power play opportunity, with a goal from Braden Hutchison (Jake Schneider, Jack Taylor), to round out the first period.
Determined not to be defeated, the Jacks scored their second goal just 13 seconds into the second period to tie it up again. Nick Breault was the goal scorer, assisted by Cal Jefferies and Sean McEwan.
Woodstock took the lead again in the third when Hutchison (Dan Haig, Austin Whetham) slipped the puck past Jacks net-minder Ryan Porter.
As they continued to rack up penalties, they weren’t able to keep their lead. Wellesley’s McEwan scored on a power play late in the third, assisted by Breault and Justin Lebold to take the game into overtime.
But overtime and then double overtime didn’t change the scoreboard, leaving both teams to add one point to their record for a tie. The Jacks took 50 shots on Woodstock’s North Davies, to Woodstock’s 40 on Porter.
“You try to keep the shifts short. We did go four lines most of the game. I think the guys were pretty fresh. You’ve just got to keep reminding the guys how big the points are this time of the year, with the last month of the season here and just keep encouraging and trying to get the best out of them that you can,” Gerber said.
The Navy Vets spent a whole lot longer in the penalty box – 50 minutes compared to Wellesley’s 14. And numerous times the referees had to tell the coaching staff to quiet down because they seemed to take issue with every penalty Woodstock got, including two 10 minute penalties for abuse of officials.
“We’re still working on our penalty kill, power play, and it’s pretty ironic actually. We worked on overtime, the four on four and the three on three. Coming down in the last month of the season every team is battling for position now for playoffs. All points are important for all teams, so there are going to be close games and a lot of overtime games probably. So I think if you can learn to play well four on four and three on three in overtime those extra points come in handy,” Gerber said.
The last time the two teams squared off, Wellesley won 3-1.
The Jacks are fifth in the league, but Norwich and Woodstock are close behind. All three teams have 28 points, but Wellesley has more games left to play. They’ll need another five points to compete for the fourth place spot, currently held by Tavistock.
“Right now we do have a 23 man roster and everybody’s healthy, knock on wood. We’re hoping for the most part we can go with four lines and get in and get some guys out of the lineup, rest them, so we won’t have to ask all the guys at least to play all three games all three weekends. It’s just staying healthy and playing four lines is important, so come the Sunday games you’re still fresh. But it is a lot of hockey for the boys,” Gerber said.
And with four months behind them and just one more to go before playoff season, Gerber says the coaching staff’s pleased with how well the team’s come together.
“At the beginning of the season you could see we had a good group, but as the season’s gone on, especially in the dressing room and off the ice, they’re a very tight-knit group and they get along very good, which is very important for any hockey team,” Gerber said.
The Jacks have a busy weekend ahead of them with a trip to Ayr tonight (Thursday) to face the Centennials, followed by two home games on Friday and Saturday versus Burford and Norwich. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. for all three matches.