The Wellesley Applejacks split a pair of games to open their Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL) season last weekend. The team fell in overtime to the Tavistock Braves 3-2 before unleashing on the Burford Bulldogs 9-2 the following night.
Taking three of a possible four points left the Jacks atop the standings after the opening weekend.
What’s more, the lineup has been finalized for the 2019/2020 season as of Monday night, said club president Terry Brick.
“Twenty-three cards are signed,” said Brick of the roster. “There may be some minor changes – there are a lot of new names this year. I think around eight are returning players, so around half the team has changed.
“You pretty much get that every year. There’s always quite a huge turnover in the junior ranks.”
The first weekend where play counted helped with the final tweaks.
The Jacks got the season rolling in Tavistock on Saturday night, drawing first blood courtesy of Zachary Lyons at 4:04. Zach Ribeiro and Owen Lane picked up assists. The Braves returned the favour at 12:42. This frame was more notable for roughhousing than for scoring: there were nine penalties (42 minutes overall) doled out between the two teams. The scoreboard read 1-1 after one.
The second stanza saw Tavistock break the deadlock 7:24, but Lyons (James Ranson, Ribeiro) was able to retaliate on a power play at 11:23. There was no more scoring for the remainder of the period.
That trend continued through all of the third frame, with no scoring or penalties during the 20 minutes of game play. The score was 2-2 after regulation, sending the teams into overtime.
It was Tavistock that finally broke the scoreless streak at 2:49, handing the Jacks a disappointing 3-2 loss in a game where the visitors had a slight edge in shots, 37-36.
“Tavistock is going to be one of the number-one competitors this year,” said Brick, recalling their impressive top-of-the-standings performance in the playoffs last year. “The Braves and then the New Hamburg Firebirds, for us there’s a nice rivalry there.”
The Jacks managed to redeem themselves during Sunday’s game against the Burford Bulldogs. The first period set the tone for the match as Wellesley scored early and often. Daniel McCutcheon drew first blood at 5:10, with Shaun Pickering and Danny Ranson picking up assists.
It was as though the Jacks were taking out their frustrations from the previous night: Lyons (Owen Lane, Keegan Saunders) capitalized on a power play at 6:51, followed by three consecutive goals and a hat trick by Lane in a four-mintue span. Ribeiro, Lyons, and J. Ranson picked up the assists.
The visitors took a commanding 5-0 lead into the first intermission, and never looked back.
Burford finally got on the board in the second period, potting one at 1:52. Lane responded quickly on a power play, with assists going to Ribeiro and J. Ranson. Joining in on the scoring frenzy was Carson Wickie (Austin Cousineau, Connor Bradley) at 6:41. Cousineau followed up with a goal of his own, taking advantage of a power play at 15:53. Bradley and Ian Wark picked up assists.
This made it a very comfortable 8-1 lead for the Jacks going into the final frame, with more and more roughhousing on both sides as time went on. The third period alone saw a total of 12 penalties with minimal scoring: new team captain Shaun Pickering (Cousineau, Warren Gorman) scores one more for the visitors 4:43, while the floundering Bulldogs potted another on a power play at 5:57.
The rest of the game played out to the buzzer for a 9-2 final in favour of the Applejacks.
“They somehow have become a struggling team,” said Brick of the Bulldogs. “They didn’t make the playoffs last year. Unfortunately for them, the Delhi Travellers used to fill that position.
“Delhi went a couple of seasons without winning a single game; last year Delhi beat Burford a few times, and that was enough to get them into the playoffs.”
The Jacks remain on the road, facing the Norwich Merchants tomorrow (Friday), and the Delhi Travellers the following night. The puck drops at 8 p.m. for both games.
The Jacks will have to wait once again for their first home-opener game, which takes place at the St. Clements arena this year, rather than the usual Wellesley location.
“When we set the schedule up, we thought we were playing in St. Clements,” explained Brick, of the location change. “Then Wellesley arena opened back up for us, but we committed on the schedule for October 5 in St. Clements.”
They will be playing that match against the New Hamburg Firebirds, with the rest of their home games this season taking place at the Wellesley arena.