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Sweep brings Jacks’ season to an end

Applejack Ryan Sparkes, going in for the kill at Sunday’s playoff game in Wellesley against the Paris Mounties. Wellesley fell 6-2, allowing Paris to sweep the series.
Applejack Ryan Sparkes, going in for the kill at Sunday’s playoff game in Wellesley against the Paris Mounties. Wellesley fell 6-2, allowing Paris to sweep the series. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

Dropping a pair of games last weekend, the Wellesley Applejacks found themselves swept out of the playoffs by the Paris Mounties, who won the best-of-seven series in four straight.

It was a disappointing first-round exit from the PJHL playoffs.

Penalty trouble was to blame in their first match-up on Saturday in Paris. The game was a close one heading into the final period when some antics landed the Jacks in the box and a whole lot of pain via a 10-4 final score.

Following up with a Sunday matinee at home, the Jacks were sluggish from the get-go, dropping a 6-2 decision and ending their season on a unsatisfactory note.

“It’s kind of unfortunate here. You know, we had high hopes for the season and we thought we’d have a good playoff here but that’s hockey,” said head coach Brad Gerber.

“It just goes to show that the league we’re in, it’s a very tough league and any team can beat any team, and we ran into a good team. Paris is a very good team, they deserved everything they got.”

Already up 2-0 in the series heading in Saturday’s game, Paris claimed a decisive lead, potting the first two goals of the match midway through the first frame, setting them at a comfortable 2-0 when the buzzer rang.

Wellesley retaliated 11:29 into the second, with Alex Uttley (Zach Ribeiro, Spencer Brick) putting the Jacks up on the board. It was 2-1, but moments later Paris potted back-to-back goals, extending the lead to 4-1.

Shaun Pickering, Ryan Hergott, Spencer Brick, Nick Mercier, Alex Uttley and Brady Gerber after Sunday’s game. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

The Jacks rallied, however, and at 13:50, Reade MacInnis found the back of net on the power play, with Uttley this time lending the assist. At 15:03, Tomas Azzano came in for one more, with Uttley once again providing the set-up. It was 4-3 when both teams headed into intermission, and the Jacks were back in the game.

But the final frame proved to be a disaster for the Wellesley team. Paris potted their fifth goal of the match a minute in, and then another at 5 minutes. Uttley, now the Jacks ace-in-the-hole, came in with an unassisted goal at 10:42, making it 6-4.

A victory was within reach, but the Jacks were racking up the penalties and losing valuable players to the box. Forwards Ryan Sparkes and Mackenzie Aiken were slammed with 10- and four-minute infractions, respectively; Shaun Pickering, the Jacks’ top goal scorer in the regular season, was hit with his second misconduct of the match and ejected off the ice with 10 minutes of game-time left. MacInnis, who scored the team’s second goal, was also lost for the final 10 minutes of the game.

“Saturday’s game, it was a close game all the way through,” noted Gerber. “I think it was 4-3 going into the third period for Paris, and yeah we got into penalty trouble. You know, it’s tough. We’re down two games going into that game and you don’t get some of the calls, and some of the players, they get frustrated.”

With their star lineup all but absent, the Jacks just couldn’t generate the momentum to keep going. Paris scored three more power plays and a short-handed goal in the final half of the frame, ending the game in a massive 10-4 defeat for the Applejacks.

“Yeah, we ran into penalty trouble Saturday and that was the difference, for sure,” said Gerber. “You’ve got to stay disciplined, but it is very tough for anybody to do for sure.”

Power plays for Paris were 3-14, while Wellesley was only 1-5. Over the game, the Applejacks had racked up 78 minutes of box time on 21 infractions, compared with the Mounties’ 20 minutes on six infractions. Shots on goal, meanwhile, were 31 for the Jacks versus 50 for the Mounties; the final frame saw the biggest difference with Wellesley taking only 5 shots on net while receiving 18.

The Applejacks left Paris in a sour state. With one final chance at redemption Sunday, the pressure was on, yet the team couldn’t generate the momentum it needed. Ultimately, the Jacks fell to the Mounties for the fourth straight time, 6-2, cutting short their bid for the Shmalz Cup.

The game got off to a good start with Wellesley’s Trent Lamarche (Alex Uttley, Nathan Smith) drawing first blood on the power play, five minutes in. However, less than a minute later the Mounties knotted the game back up, and then scored again on the power play at 11:33.

The Jacks were 2-1 in the hole at the start of the second frame, which turned into 3-1 when the Mounties scored the lone goal on the power play at 6:23.

Entering into the final stanza, the Mounties scored twice more with two power play markers at 6:50 and 8:18. Applejack Nick Mercier responded at 10:20, with Kyle Soper and Shaun Pickering picking up the assist.

The Jacks salute their fans, allowing for one last hurrah as the team’s season came to an end Sunday. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

Now 5-2, the Jacks needed some extra enforcers on the ice to make it a close game. They pulled net-minder Ryan Hergott for an additional skater, but that only allowed the Mounties to slide the puck into an empty net one last time with less than two minutes on the clock. The game ended in a 6-2 defeat for the Jacks, and with that, their season was over.

The two teams were closer on power play opportunities this time around, but Paris was able to capitalize on 4 of 6, while the Jacks only scored on 1 of 5.

With four straight losses and zero wins, the Jacks joined the Burford Bulldogs, who had to play the first place Ayr Centennials, at the bottom of the 16-member South Conference. During the regular season, the fifth place Jacks (22-16-1-1) had trailed just behind the Mounties (26-12-0-2) in the standings, and had won two of their five prior match-ups.

“We expected bigger things. You know, we thought we’d put a good group together, but again it just goes to show we’re in a tough league here. And there’s so many good teams in our league and anybody can beat anybody,” said Gerber.

“Unfortunately we ran into Paris and they’re a very good club and they deserved what they got, they deserved to win. So we congratulate them and we wish them the best of luck moving on.”

The season may be over, but the Jacks will still be around to host the end-of-year banquet in the next few weeks. It’s a way for the team, who have been so involved in the community over the past year, to have a proper send off.

“The community’s been great. Our fan base is up, we’re getting a lot more people out to our games,” said Gerber.

“The community has also been very good to us … as far as supporting us at our home games, it’s nice to see all the people come out.”

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