Battling the New Hamburg Firebirds in the second round of the Provincial Junior Hockey League playoffs, the Wellesley Applejacks were on the right side of a 2-1 difference as they headed into game four Wednesday night in the best of seven series.
Though results weren’t available at press time, the series will continue Friday night in New Hamburg.
The two teams have been closely matched this series, however, with the Jacks claiming their first two games against New Hamburg before falling in game three over the weekend.
Playing last Friday in their first matchup in Wilmot, the Jacks narrowly edged out their rivals in a 4-3 decision. The following night in Wellesley, the Jacks continued their winning ways with a 3-1 victory. But by Sunday, the Jacks had apparently run out of steam, falling 5-2 to the Firebirds.
Game one at the Wilmot arena turned out to be an uneven affair, with the Jacks dominating in middle frame, but ceding the first and last 20 minutes of the game to the Firebirds.
New Hamburg’s Zach Mark found the back of the net first this game, with an unassisted marker 4:41 into the first in what would be the lone goal of the frame. There was no shortage of action, though, with both teams getting slapped with a series of slashing, interference and roughing after whistle that got the players riled up.
The Jacks found their stride in the second, putting up three points in the first six minutes while giving nothing in return.
Alex Uttley (Tyler Schwindt, Shaun Pickering) got the Jacks on the board two minutes into the frame. Warren Gorman (Zach Ribeiro) made it 2-1 while down a man, Shaun Pickering having been ejected off the ice for a boarding infraction. Uttley (James Ranson, Daniel Tsiampas) rounded out the scoring at 6:20, this time on the man advantage, making it 3-1 by the second intermission.
Period three saw the Jacks steadily lose ground as New Hamburg put up some more markers of their own. Penalty trouble may have been to blame as a tripping infraction offered New Hamburg’s Ryan George the opportunity for an unassisted power play goal at 8:19.
Ribeiro responded with an unassisted marker of his own, this time on a shorthanded play at 13:07. It was 4-2 with seven minutes left on the clock, and New Hamburg made one last go of it with a late-game goal coming. It was not enough to change the outcome, however, as the game ended in a 4-3 victory for the Jacks.
Wellesley bore the brunt of the referees calls. New Hamburg had 12 power plays to work with, but capitalized on just one. Wellesley, by contrast, had only four power play opportunities and scored once.
Taking Friday’s win in stride, the Jacks picked up their second the following night at the Wellesley arena. It was a comparatively tame game from the previous night with the penalties and the goals fewer and farther between.
The Jacks drew first blood this time around, with Pickering (Gorman) putting up the lone goal of the frame at the seven-minute point.
New Hamburg’s George would knot the board six minutes into the second on an unassisted power play. The two teams looked to be heading into the final frame on a 1-1 tie when Gorman potted a power-play marker 13 seconds from the buzzer, with Pickering this time lending the assist.
It would be the game-winning goal, with a late game empty-netter from Ribeiro (Zachary Lyons, Kyle Soper) sealing the Firebirds’ fate.
Up 2-0 in the series, the Jacks hit their first major obstacle Sunday. Making the short trek through the blizzard-like conditions to Wilmot, the team was stung by a 5-2 loss.
New Hamburg scored early and often in this game, picking up two power plays in the first and not letting up from there.
Ribeiro (Lyons, D. Ranson) made it 2-1 three minutes into the second, but the Jacks were again pushed back when the Firebirds added a third point to the board just 14 seconds later.
Wellesley’s Ethan Hebel (Pickering) potted the team’s second point at 5:42, making it a one-point game again. But that’s as close as it would get.
New Hamburg put up two more points before the period was out, at 9:41 on a short-handed play and again at 11:53, and would hold onto their 5-2 lead for the remaining 30 minutes of game time.
Suffering their first defeat at the hands of New Hamburg in the playoffs, the Jacks were still in a strong position with two wins and a loss (2-1) as they headed into game four of the series yesterday (Wednesday).
Regardless of the outcome, Wellesley will be returning to Wilmot arena on Friday for game five at 7:30 p.m. Game six is scheduled for Saturday, if needed, at 7:30 p.m. as well, while a final seventh game would take place at Wilmot on Sunday at 2 p.m.