It was a challenging and ultimately disappointing week for the Applejacks as they took on the top two teams in the South Doherty Division, and lost.
Facing off last Thursday against the first-place Ayr Centennials, Wellesley fell 3-0 on the road. Returning home Saturday to take on Tavistock, the Jacks played a much closer game but fell 3-2 on the strength of a last-minute goal by the Braves.
But up against the Centennials last week, the Jacks were back on their heels almost from the get-go. Four minutes into the first, Ayr drew first blood in what would be the only point for the next 40 minutes.
The Jacks headed into their first intermission just one point in the hole, but were unable to climb out for the rest of the match. The second frame was an unmoving slog as neither side could break past the other’s defence.
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Still 1-0 as the Jacks headed onto the ice for the final frame, it was not until 15:43 that another point was put on the board. Unfortunately, however, it would prove to be Ayr’s puck that found the net on a power play.
Now down 2-0, the Jacks pulled their netminder, Ryan Hergott, but the open net only allowed the Centennials to slot one last puck in the final 50 seconds of the frame. The Jacks were defeated 3-0, with the shutout going to Centennials’ goalie Ryan Baux.
It was an especially shaky performance for the Jacks who, in previous matches, had been able to keep within one goal of Ayr and even walked away once with a 4-2 victory. But despite the numbers on the board, Wellesley had kept pace with Ayr right up until the final minutes of the game.
“It was a tight game for almost three periods,” noted head coach Brad Gerber.
“It was a 1-0 game most of the night, and it was just one of those nights where we just couldn’t find a way to score a goal. It’s a little frustrating at times, but that’s the way it goes sometimes,” he said.
On the weekend, the Jacks knew they had another tough game ahead of them as they took on the second-place Tavistock Braves. The Jacks had the home advantage, though, and, to their credit, came within a hair’s breadth of overtime, until a last-minute goal put the Braves up 3-2.
The game got off to a faulty start as troubles with the arena ice delayed the puck drop by about half-an-hour. By the time the game got rolling, both teams were itching to play.
The first period belonged squarely to the Braves as they scored two power play markers.
Wellesley had a chance to retaliate in the second frame, as nine minutes in Alex Uttley found the back of the opponents’ net. Picking up the assist were Shaun Pickering and Jordan Hoekstra. An Applejack for the past two years, Hoekstra had just returned to the lineup after sustaining an injury early in the season.
“That was Jordan’s first game since then, and he’s a big addition back into our lineup, for sure. We’re excited about having him back,” said Gerber after Saturday’s game against the Braves.
“Last year he was one of our top scorers on the team and he was off to a good start this year again; unfortunately, one night down in Burford he broke his ankle.”
The Uttley, Pickering, Hoekstra combo was the only point of the period, sending the players into the second intermission with an uneasy 2-1 on the board.
The final twenty minutes of the game proved to be the most dramatic, as Wellesley was able to knot the score up four-and-a-half minutes in. Pickering proved to be the man of the hour, with Uttley and Hoekstra this time lending assists.
Gerber noted Hoekstra’s ability to pick up two assists in his first game since his injury.
“It just goes to show,” he said. “The kid’s been out of the lineup for that long and he comes right in against a team like Tavistock and gets a couple points right away. Obviously he’s got to work on his conditioning a little bit, but besides that he’s a young guy and I’m sure he’ll fit in real quick.”
The game was in a dead even heat with another 15:30 left on the clock, and as the minutes counted down it seemed like it was destined for overtime. But it was not until the final minute of game time, with the scoreboard still frozen at 2-2, that the deciding goal came. Tavistock’s Carson MacRae squeaked the puck by for that last minute play, ending the game 3-2 for the Braves.
The addition of Hoekstra back to the lineup comes just in time for the playoffs. Wellesley had one final away game with Delhi last night (Wednesday) after their January 12 match was postponed due to weather. But the playoffs are kicking off this weekend with round one against the Paris Mounties.
The Jacks start the series on the road Saturday night beginning at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Wellesley will be playing host with a matinee set to start at 1:30 p.m.