The Wellesley Applejacks were crowned the South Doherty division champions for the first time in the team’s history, after an electrifying finale in Tavistock saw the home team fall scoreless.
Playing the Tavistock Braves in game five of the best-of-seven series on March 13, the Jacks needed just one goal to put this game to bed, earning the Wellesley team its first invitation to the Schmalz Cup, Junior C championships.
The Schmalz Cup is the Ontario Hockey Association’s Junior C hockey championship and trophy for the Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL).
Besting the Braves in the division finals, the Jacks are now taking on the Grimsby Peach Kings from the neighbouring South Bloomfield division in the cup quarter-finals, with game one held in Grimsby Wednesday night (scores were unavailable at press time).
Playing Tavistock for their fifth meeting of the division finals, the Jacks had every reason to be confident as they entered the match with a favorable 3-1 record. The Wellesley team had their opponents’ number throughout the playoffs, with a lone 5-4 loss on home ice denting an otherwise perfect record, and now they were going for the coup de grâce.
However, challenging the leading team of the 2018-19 regular season was always going to be tough, no matter the record.
The final match proved to be an extremely narrow race, with Tavistock maintaining the offense edge with 31 shots on net versus Wellesley’s 22, and two power play opportunities compared with Wellesley’s one. But Wellesley battered every one of the Tavistock team’s attacks throughout, earning Wellesley netminder Kailem Chappelle his first shutout of the playoffs.
The opening frame of this match was a scoreless affair, with neither side able to find their way onto the board. Tavistock fired off slightly more shots on net than Wellesley but couldn’t make contact, while Wellesley failed to capitalize on a lone power play opportunity 11 minutes in.
The board was still frozen at 0-0 when the second rolled into focus. Tavistock kept up the pressure over the next 20 minutes, directing another 11 shots on net against Wellesley’s seven. Wellesley, in turn, was slapped with a single two-minute time out on a high-sticking infraction, leaving the team at the mercy of a penalty kill.
Still, neither the superior shot count nor the power play were enough to give Tavistock the edge when the tiebreaker was slotted.
Instead, it was Wellesley newcomer Danny Ranson that proved to be the hero of this story. Potting the game-winning goal 13:50 into the second, Ranson brought home series for the Jacks. Picking up assists for the deciding goal were Matt Caskanette and Zachary Lyons.
Up 1-0 and heading into the third, the Jacks had to keep on their toes as the Braves tried to even the count. Minor penalty trouble midway through the frame saw each team loss a player to the box, while a late game penalty saw Wellesley down a man once again. Despite the upsets, the Jacks successfully kept the Braves off the boards and, when the final buzzer came, out of contention for the PJHL finals.
With the Braves defeated, the Jacks are set to battle the Grimsby Peach Kings for the South Conference supremacy, with the opening match being held last night in Grimsby. The Jacks are in Grimsby tomorrow (Friday) for game two at 8 p.m. before returning home for their next two matchups. Game three will be played at the Wellesley arena Saturday at 7:30 p.m. followed by a fourth meeting at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.