A six-point weekend having helped them clinch a playoff berth, the Wellesley Applejacks now have their sights set on a higher seeding.
Currently sitting in third-place in the South Conference with 49 points (24-13-1), the Jacks are looking to catch the second-place Paris Mounties, who have 53 points. Both teams have two games left in the regular season.
Head coach Brad Gerber says the team is aiming to tie Paris.
“Right now, nobody can catch us for third. That is as low as we will place. We can catch second, but only tie Paris for second,” he said. “The least we can do is tie them and see where we go from there. It would look good even to tie them. That would be our goal. To finish tied for second, it would be a great season for us, and heading into the playoffs, for sure.”
The Jacks started their three-game weekend on the road in Tavistock, where they dominated, finishing the game with a score of 5-1.
“Playing on the road is always a challenge, but we got off to a really good start,” said Gerber. “We got the 3-0 lead, came out with lots of energy. In the second period, we let up a little bit, and got away from our game plan, but we got back to the third period strong. The end result is a win, and that is a good thing.”
Jordan Hoekstra, with help from Nick Palmer, started scoring on Friday night, followed by two from Alex Uttley – one unassisted, the other, from Hoekstra and Shaun Pickering. In the second, Wellesley scored the only goal from Garrett Shultz, assisted by Kyle Soper. Uttley made it a hat trick with his third of the game just five minutes into the final frame, assisted by Pickering and Greg Huber. Tavistock scored their lone goal, coming from Josh Borys, with less than ten minutes left before the final buzzer.
Riding high from their road win, the Jacks came home to face off against the New Hamburg Firebirds. Gerber says the game was fast-paced and it looked like the boys were gearing up for the postseason.
“I felt like it was a playoff atmosphere for sure. It was a big game for both teams. They wanted to catch us for third place and we wanted to stay ahead of them in points. It was a very tense game. I thought both teams played very well and it was a good back and forth,” he said. “In the third period, we stuck with the game plan, got two quick goals and shut them down. We were quite pleased with that. Their goaltender wandered out of the net there, and that was a break for us. When you play a strong 60 minutes, sometimes the breaks come your way.”
Scoring started less than a minute in with a marker from Soper, assisted by Uttley and Pickering. Hoekstra wasn’t far behind with a power play goal. Colin Martin from New Hamburg brought the score to 2-1.
The Firebirds tied it up just a few minutes into the second, with Tyler Randerson getting one past goaltender Ryan Hergott, but Pickering helped the Jacks pull ahead. New Hamburg tied it up one more time before the end of the second with a marker from James Thorpe.
The third period was all about the Jacks with another from Pickering, just 30 seconds in, followed by a second Jacks’ goal from Sean McEwan. The team held off the Firebirds for the rest of the game and took home the win.
On Sunday afternoon, the Jacks faced off against the second-place Mounties in a matinee game. After earning the 4-3 win, Gerber said it was the best hockey he had seen from the boys in a while.
“It was our third game in less than three days. Normally, I would expect the boys to slow down, and it was also Paris’ third game that weekend as well,” he said. “That game, we talked about getting close to the playoffs and making sure that we are getting better and doing all the little things right. And Sunday, again, as the weekend went on, I thought we got better. Paris is a good team, obviously, and our boys stuck with the program and near the end we found a way to win. We are very, very happy with the weekend.”
Cal Jefferies started scoring for Wellesley, assisted by Spencer Brick. Paris then scored two in a row, before the Jacks tied it up with a marker from Tyson Bender on the powerplay.
Brick got a shorthanded, unassisted goal just a couple of minutes into the second, but Paris was quick to answer, tying the game at three apiece.
Brenden Goran, unassisted, clinched the win for Wellesley with only two minutes left in regulation time.
With only two games left before playoffs begin, Gerber says the boys are in a good spot. He can see them working to improve more and more every game.
“It is just about making sure that we are peaking at the right time. Obviously, we want to keep getting better, focusing on the little things and not making silly mistakes,” he said. “I think we are going in the right direction. The guys are really coming together and really buying into the program. It is a great time of year to be doing that.”
The Jacks will be closing out their season with a road game against Woodstock at 7:45 p.m. on Jan. 27. The team will be back home for the final regular season game against Tavistock on Jan. 28. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.