It’s off to the second round for the Jacks, who knocked the Tavistock Braves out of the Midwestern Junior C Hockey League 2016 playoffs in just five games.
The decisive blow came on Wellesley’s home ice Feb. 17, where the game ended with a score of 7-3. The Jacks now face the Ayr Centennials.
Head coach Brad Gerber says he is extremely happy to see the guys take the series in five, and last Wednesday’s game was as near to a perfect game as he has seen all series.
“It was a big win. I am quite pleased with the way we played. I think that is as close as we have come to playing a full game all series, and we actually got the results. It just goes to show,” he said, adding that the team has been working on getting 60 minutes of topnotch play all season. “We talk about taking it 20 minutes at a time, and then try to get a 60 minute game in and we did that for the most part. It shouldn’t be (difficult to do), but for some reason it is.”
Scoring started early in the game, with a goal from Joe Heath (Mark Lebold, Nick Palmer) just under five minutes into the first, putting the Jacks into an early 1-0 lead. About 30 seconds later, Nick Mercier doubled that, with assists from Sean McEwan and Cal Jefferies.
Tavistock was ready to fire back, however, holding off the Jacks for the rest of the period, and scoring two of their own goals, tying up the game late in the first. Jacob Rooke scored at 18:36, with help from Mackenzie Sealy, followed quickly by another Tavistock marker from Dalton Smith, assisted by Rooke and Garrett Schultz.
Gerber says he wasn’t surprised to see Tavistock come back. They are a traditionally aggressive team.
“Tavistock played well, too, and they wanted to win as badly as we did. They are very aggressive, but overall, we were quite pleased with the way we played that night,” he said. “We had a couple of breakdowns and a couple of times when we took our foot off the pedal, but that is going to happen.”
Heading into the second, all tied up, Wellesley took over, scoring two more, halfway through the first from Mercier, helped by Heath, and the second, less than a minute later at 10:01 from Shaun Pickering, assisted by Alex Uttley and Brady Gerber. The Jacks would stay in the lead for the rest of the game.
Now two goals down, tempers ran high on Tavistock’s bench, with gloves coming off, and fighting penalties handed out to both teams. Wellesley wasn’t much better, with 16 penalties to Tavistock’s 17.
The third period started on a high note for the Jacks, with a goal from McEwan early on, assisted by Jefferies and Lebold. The third was heated, with penalties getting handed to both teams for roughing, boarding, misconduct, inciting an opponent, head contact, hooking and slashing. Up until the last thirty seconds of the game.
Wellesley continued the scoring, with an unassisted marker from Jefferies. Tavistock got one last goal, coming from Derek Hyde and assisted by Tayler Trachsel at 12:54, but Wellesley took the time to answer, with a shorthanded goal from McEwan, his second of the period, on an empty net and helped along by Lebold.
The five game series saw more goals in a game than most playoff hockey, and Gerber credits the high numbers to the passion coming from the players, but made sure to laud the talent between the posts.
“I thought both sides had really good goaltending. It was just both teams working hard and being aggressive, going to the net,” he said. “There were a lot of goals this series that were screened and tips and things like that. Just goes to show that both teams worked hard to get to the net, where good things happen.”
The series only lasted five games, and Gerber says he expected a longer run against the Braves, who were pretty darn close to the Applejacks in the standings.
“I thought the series would go a lot longer. In the standings we are two pretty evenly matched teams,” he said, adding that a couple of the games came out in Wellesley’s favour due to a bit of luck and good timing. “You have to remember that we won two of those games in overtime in Tavistock and they could have gone either way. I am happy with the way it ended, but you have to remember that we are fortunate as well. We’ll definitely take it, though.”
Tavistock ended the season in fifth place with a record of 19-20-1 and 39 points.
Next up, the Jacks will be facing the Ayr Centennials, fresh off their opening-round win against the Burford Bulldogs in five games. Wellesley will be visiting Ayr for the first game of the series on Thursday, before heading back home for game two on Saturday night. Gerber says the team is going to have to fight against the Centennials to continue to the finals.
“They had a really good team last year – they went to the semi-finals of all of Ontario (the Schmalz Cup), and lost to the team that ended up winning the whole thing, the Essex 73s,” he said, adding how the series is going to be a challenge, but the team is looking ahead. “They are just as strong, if not stronger, this year, and we will definitely have our hands full. You have to almost play a perfect game to beat those guys, but we are up to the challenge. The way our guys have been playing with confidence, and if we stick to our game plan, we can definitely compete.”
The two teams faced off in the first round of the 2015 MWJCHL playoffs, where Ayr swept the Jacks in four games.
Game one of the series starts on Feb. 25 at the North Dumfries Arena at 7:30 p.m. Game two starts at 7:30 p.m. in Wellesley on Feb. 27. The team then travels back to North Dumfries on Feb. 28 for a 12:30 p.m. match.