One goal either way was the margin as the Jacks split the pair of games they played last week.
Facing the Centennials in Ayr December 14, Wellesley fell 3-2 to the South Doherty Division’s first-place team before returning home Saturday night to edge the visiting Woodstock Navy Vets by a score of 6-5.
Given the closeness of the scores, both games could have turned out differently.
Of course, battling against the Ayr Centennials was always going to be tough, but the Jacks had a strong showing against them.
“We have had success against Ayr this season, and the guys are playing with a different type of confidence against them this year,” said head coach Brad Gerber. “Because we know we can play with them and we know we can win some games from them.”
On Thursday, the Jacks started the game off with a bang, as Spencer Brick scored at 1:51, with Shaun Pickering and Alex Uttley providing the assists. It was a strong start, but the early lead was soon negated by an Ayr play at nine minutes, knotting the teams up 1-1 for the remainder of the frame.
It was the special teams that turned out to be the deciding factor of this game, as Ayr picked up their second goal of the match on the power play, six minutes into the second. They followed that up with yet another power play marker at 13 minutes.
Uttley (Brick, Greg Huber) answered back at 17:28, however, turning it back into a one-goal game again and setting things up for the final stanza.
The last 20 minutes saw no scoring, however, as the Jacks tried and failed to even the game. In the final 90 seconds, the Jacks pulled goalie Ryan Hergott for some extra firepower, but to no avail.
The win came down to Ayr going 2-5 on the power play while Wellesley was 0-5.
“We got a little bit of penalty trouble in the second period and that was kind of the difference in the game,” said Gerber about the game.
“I thought in the third period we outshout them, we out played them. We had chances to tie that game up, but the puck just didn’t bounce for us. But again, it’s all about playing 60 minutes.”
Back home on Saturday night, the Jacks squared off against the Woodstock Navy Vets, inching by with a slim 6-5 victory despite an offensive burst from Woodstock in the final third of the game.
It’s fair to say that the first two periods belonged squarely to the Jacks, as Wellesley put up goal after goal to the tune of a cheering crowd.
Just 2:21 in, the Jacks drew first blood with Trent Lamarche (Tomas Azzano, Nicholas Bigioni) picking up the point. It was a strong start that was doubled by a second goal, unassisted, by Pickering at 7:19. That would be all the scoring for the first period, with the Jacks up 2-0.
“Shaun [Pickering]’s got a heck of a shot. We’re always telling him to shoot more and use it more, and when he does he scores,” said Gerber.
The second frame saw the Navy Vets recover, somewhat, with their first goal of the match at 6:17. But the Applejacks responded in kind, hitting back fast and often. Azzano (Bigioni, Trent Dundas) found the back of the net at 11-minutes. Uttley (Nick Mercier, Brick) potted another at 15:33. And then, with just 20 seconds left on the clock, Pickering (Uttley, Brick) picked up yet another for the final goal of the period.
“For 40 minutes there, we played almost a perfect hockey game,” said Gerber. “We’re up 5-1. The guys are playing good smart hockey, they’re keeping the game simple, making good choices with and without the puck.”
With 5-1 on the board and 20 on the clock, it seemed the Jacks all but had this game in the bag, right? Well, no. Because call it momentum or Christmas magic, but whatever had given the Jacks the edge in the first 40 minutes had suddenly vanished, or even swung over to the Navy Vets.
“We started to make poor decisions,” said Gerber.
Woodstock took the offensive, peppering the Jacks’ goalie Ryan Porter with shot after shot. The final tally for shots on net in those final 20 minutes were 30-6 to Woodstock (and 50-27 over the game), and the puck was lodged firmly in the Jacks defensive zone.
“We had chances to get the puck out, and even if we take an icing that’s OK,” noted Gerber.
Firing off shot after shot against Wellesley’s beleaguered goalie, it’s no surprise that Woodstock potted their second goal at 4:11; and another at 11:47 and then two more within the space of 50 seconds. And just like that, the game went from a 5-1 landslide to a 5-5 slog.
“When we have the puck in our end, we always say to stay out of the middle, just use the boards or the glass to get it out. And, you know, we started to go up the middle,” said Gerber. “I thought Woodstock really brought it to us, and they out-worked us, they out-skated us and they got the results.”
In fact, as the clock wound down in the final six minutes of play, it seemed like the game was heading into overtime as neither side could get that game-winning goal. But then, with two and a half minutes to go, Zach Ribeiro (Mercier, Brady Gerber) found the back of the net, tipping the game once again in the Jacks’ favour until the buzzer rang out.
“Puck went to the point, I just went to the net to see if the puck was going to get through, and then I just saw the puck squeaking through the goalie’s pad and tapped it in,” said Ribeiro immediately after the game about scoring the winning goal.
“Ribeiro is a guy we liked right from the start,” noted coach Gerber. “He was at our rookie camp back in the summertime, and we knew he was a special player then. For a rookie he’s really playing well for us, so we’re very pleased with the way he plays the game and we were very happy to see him score that big goal for us on Saturday night.”
The Jacks are going to have to ride that Saturday victory into the coming week as Wellesley faces tough opposition this weekend. Friday night they’ll be up heading over to New Hamburg to take on the Firebirds, followed by a home match against second-place Tavistock Braves on Saturday. Game time both nights is 7:30 p.m.