With only eight games left in the regular season, the Wellesley Applejacks are gunning for their goal of fourth place in the standings.
The team won two of their three games this past week, losing out against first-place Ayr last Thursday, but coming out on top of Burford and Norwich on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Head coach Brad Gerber says the weekend left the players feeling good, but the team still needs to work on playing a full 60 minutes, especially when up against the best team in the league. They lost Thursday’s game against Ayr 5-1.
“We lost that game in the first period. We just didn’t come out. We were soft on the puck and we weren’t ready to play the game. We were down 3-0 after the first,” he said, adding that the rest of the game went much better, showing him the potential is there. “Ayr is a really good team and you almost have to play a perfect game to beat those guys. The first period, we were flat and made mistakes all over the ice, but the second and third period, I thought we played right with them. If you take away that first period, it was a 2-1 game. It showed that we can play with them, but you have to play 60 minutes. If you don’t, then you are going to lose.”
Friday and Saturday went better for the Jacks. Up against the Burford Bulldogs on home ice Friday, the boys got an early lead and held it for the rest of the game. Scoring for Wellesley were Cal Jefferies, Nick Palmer, Tyson Bender, Nathan Schlupp and Braidon Kerbs, all in the first and second periods. Burford tried their best to bring the disparity a little closer with two goals from Kurtis Christo and Mitch Randall.
Heading into the third, the Jacks were up by three, and Gerber says that is when the boys started to rest on their laurels.“For the first 40 minutes, I thought we played pretty well. We had a 5-2 lead, we were getting pucks in deep and when we do that, five-on-five, we are a really good team. I don’t think we let them get a lot of scoring chances. We played well on both ends of the rink, they just capitalized on the chances they did get,” he said. “Going into the third, we took our foot off the pedal a little bit. The score was closer than what I thought the game was, but that is what happens. You let up, and the other team is going to score goals.”
On Saturday night, Gerber says the team was a shining example of what to do to win hockey games. The Jacks won the game 3-1, with two goals from forward Nick Breault and a third, shorthanded, from Palmer on the power play. Norwich’s Jamie Kelly scored unassisted in the second, putting the team’s only point on the board.
“We played a 60 minute game. Norwich is a good team and they were right behind us, chasing us. It was a good game for us and the boys played a solid 60 minutes,” he said, specifically mentioning the superb goaltending on both ends of the ice. “We did all the little things right. We got pucks deep in when we were supposed to, and I thought that both of the goalies, theirs and ours, played really well. There were no breakdowns on our part which is why they only got the one goal they did. We are quite pleased with our outcome for the weekend.”
Up next, the boys take on last place Delhi on home ice at 7:30 p.m. on Friday before hosting Ayr on Saturday night, also at 7:30 p.m. Gerber says both games are equally as important, especially with only eight games left until playoffs.
“Our goal is to finish fourth – as high as we can. You can’t take Delhi lightly. They have won some games this year. We have beat them every time, but there have been some close moments,” he said. “If you start playing a game (like the other team is easy to beat), you start getting into bad habits. We play against Ayr on Saturday night and you can’t have bad habits against Ayr. We definitely want to keep the boys on their toes and have an upbeat practice this week. Get them back in action for the weekend.”
If the team finished fourth place, like they hope to, it will give the boys home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“We are playing some teams that are ahead of us and we have a game in hand, so I think that we can definitely work it out,” said Gerber. “If we win the games we should win, we will be able to catch those guys.”