After a busy weekend on the road, the Wellesley Applejacks have put themselves in an ideal playoff position, winning all three games.
The team faced off against Woodstock, Burford and Paris – three games in three days – and head coach Brad Gerber says it couldn’t have gone better for the guys.
“We are right where we want to be, just about .500 and in fourth place,” he said. “We were more than pleased as a coaching staff. Obviously when you win three games in a row on the road in one weekend, there is not too much to complain about.”
The Jacks had a goal of placing fourth heading into playoffs to ensure a home ice start when the regular season comes to a close this coming weekend. The way things are looking right now, they will get their wish.
“It is first and eighth against each other in the playoffs, then second and seventh, and so on. That is why finishing fourth is so important to us, giving us home ice in the first round,” said Gerber. “Obviously, right now it is hard to say who we will play, but it is looking like Tavistock or Woodstock. It is hard to say, with other games going on in the league this week. Again, I think we have put ourselves in a pretty good position and it is up to us to determine where we are going to finish.”
The team’s winning weekend started with a game against the Woodstock Navy Vets on Friday night with a final score of 3-2 at the Woodstock Community Centre and Gerber says although the Jacks came out on top, it was a hard-fought game.
“It was a tight game for us. Woodstock is usually a tough team, especially on their home ice. We knew it was going to be a different game, for sure, but the boys played a good solid game,” he said. “We had to weather the storm for the first ten minutes of the first period.”
Woodstock’s Tyler Arsenault started the scoring just one minute into the first with help from Justin Elms and Dylan Wettlaufer. Cal Jefferies tied it up just a few minutes later with assists from Alex Uttley and Shaun Pickering.
Gerber says it was in the second period everything started coming together.
“We had to get to our game plan, and they did,” he said. “It all worked out pretty well, but it was a tight game all the way through. It was a well-deserved win.”
Nick Breault gave the Applejacks the lead four minutes into the second, assisted by Jefferies. The second period was also plagued with penalties – four for Wellesley and five for Woodstock, but both teams worked well on the penalty kill, not allowing any power play goals – unlike the third period.
Woodstock’s Ethan Hager opened up scoring in the third with assists from Dan Haig and Jake Schneider on the power play while Applejacks defenseman Nathan Schlupp was in the box for hooking. The Jacks didn’t let that get to them, however, with a power play goal of their own, another from Jefferies, with just two minutes left in the third and clinching the win.
Next up, the Jacks traveled to Burford to take on the Bulldogs. Gerber says that Burford’s low position in league standings gave Wellesley players the impression they didn’t have to go as hard, but that attitude didn’t last long. The Jacks won by a score of 5-3.
“They are a big physical team and we started slow. We weren’t as sharp as we wanted to be,” he said. “I think sometimes the guys just play to their competition, but I don’t like to say that. We just had a really slow start to the game. We had to come back in the second to take back the lead. Nothing has ever come easy against Burford.”
That slow start was evident with the only goal from the first period belonging to Burford’s Tyson Lafrance, assisted by Hayden Hellyer and David Denardi, scored with just ten seconds left in the period.
The second period came together for Wellesley, with the first goal coming just over two minutes in off Nick Palmer’s stick, assisted by Nick Mercier and Jake Wilkinson. The Jacks scored a second time just two minutes later, taking the lead with a goal from Braidon Kerbs, helped along by Joe Heath and Pickering.
Burford was quick to answer, with a goal from Denardi to tie it, assisted by Mitch Randell and Jesse Brooks. Randell racked up another point 15 minutes into the second with help from Tyler Hinde and Owen Hinch.
The Applejacks took over the third period of the game with a goal from Jefferies, and two more from Breault. The third period was also rife with penalties from both teams. Wellesley spent 20 minutes in the box to Burford’s 12 minutes.
The boys continued their winning weekend against Paris on Sunday night, putting a damper on the Mounties’ four game winning streak. The game went into double overtime with the Jacks coming out on top with a score of 4-3.
Gerber says he was impressed with the game play, especially considering it was the team’s third game in three days.
“We were very pleased. It was our third game in three days and I thought the boys were much more prepared for them than last weekend,” he said, referencing last weekend’s double overtime loss to New Hamburg. “Last Sunday, we played our third game in three days and we were pretty flat for the whole game, but Sunday, I think the boys learned their lesson from last week and got their sleep and probably ate a little bit better.”
Wellesley’s Uttley started off Sunday night’s scoring with an assist from Jackson Keller at 4:39 into the first. Paris quickly shot back with two goals in three minutes from Brady Wheelans (Brodie Smith and Tysen Willemsen) and Cole Corriveau (Austin Sine and Richard Brooks), respectively.
The second period started with Paris in the lead, and Mounties’ Ryan Stephenson widening that lead to two. Jefferies took advantage of the power play with Paris’ Stephenson in the box for interference, and scored with help from Uttley.
It looked like Paris was going to be victorious, with a one-goal lead heading into the third, but Uttley put a stop to that with a penalty shot. The goal tied up the game, and after an uneventful first overtime, Mercier won the game for the Applejacks just 23 seconds into the second overtime period.
Throughout the team’s busy weekend, Gerber says one of the main factors for the team’s success was effective goaltending from both Ryan Porter and Ryan Hergott.
“I thought we got the goaltending we needed on the weekend. Both guys played well. They worked hard, but weren’t overly worked,” he said. “They made the saves they had to and that is what you need. We were very pleased with both of the goalies and the way they played this weekend.”
The Applejacks travel to Norwich Friday night and then host Tavistock on Saturday night. The matchups are the last two of the regular season for Wellesley, and barring any upsets in the rest of the league this week, the team will be finishing fourth of nine.