It was a close contest, but after six games the Wellesley Applejacks emerged victorious in the semi-final round, extinguishing the New Hamburg Firebirds in the best-of-seven series. They will face off against the South Doherty Division’s top team, the Tavistock Braves, in the final round.
Up 2-1 going into the past week’s games, the Jacks won two of the next three to takes the series, one that was bound to be a fierce battle: the Firebirds and Applejacks finished the Provincial Junior Hockey League season right next to each other in second and third place, with Wellesley’s 59 points just one behind New Hamburg’s regular-season total.
Home ice was a factor in the series, as the Jacks won all of the matches at the Wellesley arena, with their own loss in the past week coming at the neighbouring Wilmot arena.
The February 27 game in Wellesley saw the home team get off to a strong start, with Shaun Pickering drawing first blood at 3:42. Alex Uttley and Kyle Soper picked up assists on the lone goal of the first frame.
The Firebirds stepped it up in the second stanza, scoring two consecutive goals at 5:39 and 9:54. There was also a fair bit of roughhousing, with a collective eight penalties split evenly between both teams. Wellesley finally got the chance to respond around the final minutes, with Uttley (Pickering, Warren Gorman) potting one at 17:16, making it an even 2-2 heading into the last period.
The Jacks kept their cool. Ethan Hebel made it 3-2 for the Jacks at 5:20, a lead they would never relinquish. Assists went to Zach Ribeiro and Pickering. With the final minutes winding down, the Firebirds pulled their goalie, Justin Osolnik, in a last-ditch effort to take back the game. This strategy backfired however, making the empty net easy pickings for Ribeiro (Zachary Lyons) at 18:52, making it a 4-2 win for the Jacks.
Friday’s game at the Wilmot arena proved to be less successful, though it didn’t start out that way.
Ribeiro was quick to put Wellesley on the board at 5:17, with the assist going to Reade MacInnes. Uttley potted one more for good measure, an unassisted goal at 14:24. This gave the Jacks a comfortable 2-0 lead going into the second frame.
It was all New Hamburg after that, however. The Firebirds’ Tyler Randerson took advantage of a power play just 14 seconds in, netting the lone goal of the frame.
It was still Wellesley’s game headed into third, up until about the halfway point when the Firebirds came to life. They potted their first goal at 9:04, followed by another at 10:40, effectively gaining the lead. They didn’t stop there: the puck found its way to the back of the Wellesley net at 14:18, followed by a final unassisted goal by New Hamburg’s Colin Martin at 14:57. This quick reversal of fortunes resulted in a 5-2 win for the Firebirds.
They faced off again the following day at the Wellesley arena, where the Applejacks sealed a 4-1 win. Danny Ranson kicked things off at 3:13, with Ribeiro grabbing the assist. It was all Wellesley this period, with Uttley scoring two consecutive goals on a power play, one at 4:47 and then later in the frame at 17:03. Assists went to Soper, Pickering and Colton Culbert. The game was looking good for the Jacks headed into second.
New Hamburg finally found the chance to respond, taking advantage of an early power play at 3:23. This would be the lone goal for the Firebirds throughout the whole game, and the only one of the period. This frame was more notable for its roughhousing than its scoring, with six collective penalties between both teams.
The final goal came much later, with just six seconds left to go, Pickering scored on an empty net unassisted. This resulted in a 4-1 win for the Jacks.
The Jacks will now take on the Tavistock Braves, who narrowly beat out the Paris Mounties to qualify for the final round. The series was to get underway Wednesday night in Tavistock, though results weren’t available at press time. Game two goes in Wellesley Saturday night (7:30 p.m.) before the teams return to Tavistock Sunday evening. Game four sees the action return to the Wellesley arena Tuesday (7:30 p.m.). If needed, game five is set for the following night in Tavistock.