Make it five in a row for the Wellesley Applejacks, who swept their second consecutive weekend, finishing up the regular season with a 21-17-2 record.
The fourth-place finish means they’ve secured home ice for the first round of playoffs, a welcome advantage if the series goes to seven games.
In Norwich on Friday, the Jacks didn’t skate the best they could, but still came out with the 5-4 win.
“Actually for 40 minutes we played probably one of our best road games all season long,” said head coach Brad Gerber. “We were up 5-1 after two periods and as a coaching staff we were very pleased on how we were doing the little things right, getting the puck in deep, coming back with good numbers, not giving them any scoring chances at all.”
Wellesley’s Brenden Goran got on the board first, scoring less than two minutes into the game unassisted. Norwich tied it up 10 minutes later on a shot from Adam Harris, helped by Derek Slaght.
Applejack Brady Gerber scored to take the lead, assisted by Nick Mercier, and Nick Breault put one past Merchants goalie Andrew Lefebvre on a power play. Cal Jefferies provided the assist.
Two goals from Nick Palmer (Jefferies, Breault) and Gerber (Braidon Kerbs, Spencer Brick) in the second gave the Jacks a comfortable 5-1 lead going into the third.
“Then in the third period we could just see little things starting to happen, little bad habits. It was still six or seven minutes to go when it was still 5-1, but they scored three late goals to make a game of it. The lesson for the boys that night was this close to playoff time it’s got to be 60 minutes. You can’t get away with that in the playoffs,” Gerber said.
The Merchants managed to score three times in the third, but weren’t able to get that last goal to tie the game and send it to overtime, instead giving Wellesley the win.
Merchants goals were scored by Zack Morrison (Jamie Kelly, Troy Lamoure), Daniel Rizzo, and Brandon Velda (Riley Monture).
“All in all it was a good road game for us. Norwich is a good club. They’re an improved team. They had a real slow start and they’ve come on and they are a good team. They’re going to be a team to watch in the playoffs for sure,” Gerber said.
The Jacks played better the following night on home ice, defeating the Tavistock Braves 5-3.
In the first frame, it took nearly the whole period before anyone scored. Wellesley’s Breault took advantage of a power play opportunity, assisted by Jefferies and Alex Uttley while two of Tavistock’s players sat in the penalty box.
“We wanted to keep the momentum going. That’s five wins in a row for us, going into playoffs where momentum going in is a big thing. We did what we had to do to get the win and as a coaching staff we were pleased,” Gerber said.
Garrett Schultz (Mackenzie Sealy, Derek Hyde) earned the Braves’ first goal of the night early in the second. Wellesley’s Jake Wilkinson scored to put them ahead again, and Breault followed up with a power play marker of his own to increase the lead. Helpers were Palmer, Uttley, and Austin George.
Not going down without a fight, Tavistock’s Angus Rowland put the puck in the net with two seconds left in the second period, assisted by Jake Wiffen and Jamie Shoemaker.
Wellesley’s Goran opened the scoring in the third, unassisted. Rowland earned his second of the night for the Braves, assisted by Kevan Hadad and Sealy, making it a one-goal game. Tavistock wasn’t able to score again and Palmer scored on an empty net for the Jacks, assisted by Jefferies and Wilkinson to take the game 5-3.
“I thought we played a solid game. Obviously we knew the situation, we knew we had clinched fourth place, so the game didn’t mean anything to us. The guys did what they had to do. We were a little surprised with the way Tavistock played, they really sat back and let us really come to them, which is not really their style, so I think it kind of took us by surprise a little bit,” Gerber said.
They’ll face fifth-place Tavistock this weekend for their first playoff game and Gerber says it will be a tough series.
“They’ve got some guys that have been in the league and they understand playoff hockey. I think we just have to worry about ourselves. Whether they’re going to force it or they’re going to lay back like they did the other night, I think we just have to worry about ourselves. If we get the puck in deep, don’t turn it over in bad places, we’re a good team five-on-five, stay out of the penalty box, I think we’ll be okay,” Gerber said.
Cal Jefferies earned his 100th career point versus Burford last month and was given the game puck at Saturday night’s game. After this weekend’s games he has 105 points. He’s played for the Jacks for the past three seasons. He was also named the Most Sportsmanlike Player for the Midwestern Junior C Hockey League last season.
“Cal’s been a good player for us all year. Obviously he’s been around a while. For us, he’s been a dependable player all year long. For anybody to get 100 points in this league is a real accomplishment. We’re really happy for Cal,” Gerber said.
Reflecting on Gerber’s first regular season with the Jacks, he says he’s pleased and the team hit their goals. And there’s been considerable improvement from last year where the Jacks finished the regular season in eighth place, with a 13-27-0 record only above Delhi.
“With what we had to start the year and how these guys have come together and competed, it’s just a real pleasure,” Gerber said.
The team struggled at times, but they kept working hard to get where they are, he adds. But there’s still work to be done. If you don’t do well in the playoffs, all that happened in the regular season will be forgotten pretty quickly, he says.
“Our goal was to finish in the top four, get home ice advantage for the first round of playoffs, which is huge, and try to play .500 or a little better than .500 hockey. And that’s what we did,” Gerber said.
The Jacks face the Braves at the Wellesley arena on Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m and again Feb. 7 at 3 p.m. Games three and four are in Tavistock.