The Wellesley Applejacks won their final two games of the regular season last weekend, finishing second in the South Doherty Division. They open the Provincial Junior Hockey League playoffs Friday night against the New Hamburg Firebirds.
That Jacks (28-6-2-4) finished just two points back of the Tavistock Braves (30-6-3-1) in the race for the top spot in the division despite defeating their rivals in penultimate game of the season. That game on January 31 was something of a barnburner, as the teams combined for 13 goals, Wellesley ultimately emerging victorious by a score of 7-6 on the road.
Tavistock went up 2-0 before the Jacks scored late in the opening period, a goal from Conner Bradley, assisted by Kyle Fischer and Matt Caskanette. It was 2-1 as the teams went back to the room for the first intermission.
The second saw the ice tilted in favour of Tavistock, who ran the score to 6-1 before Wellesley’s Troy Vandenbussche scored an unassisted shorthanded goal with just a minute left.
Down 6-2 to start the final frame, the Jacks might have been forgiven for mailing it in, but with an eye on first place and pride on the line, Wellesley stormed back to own the third. Power-play goals from Carson Wickie (Austin Cousineau) and Bradley (Cousineau, James Ranson) early on made a game of it. With less than four minutes to go, the Jacks found another gear, getting goals from Koby Seiling (Shaun Pickering), a another shortie, Daniel McCutcheon and Zach Ribeiro (Justin McCombs, Ranson), who scored the winner with just 11 seconds left on the clock.
Shots were 46-40 in favour of the visiting Jacks.
It was a different story the following night at the Wellesley arena, as the Applejacks lead from start to finish against the team that will be their first-round playoff competitor, the Firebirds.
McCombs, assisted by Vandenbussche and Pickering, scored a power-play marker at 13:40. It was the lone goal of the first period despite Wellesley putting 19 shots on goal, with New Hamburg getting 11.
The second period was far more active for the home team, with Cousineau (Vandenbussche) scoring just 21 seconds after play resumed. Wickie made it 3-2 with an unassisted effort at 7:16, followed by a Pickering goal less than two minutes later. Keegan Saunders picked up an assist.
The Jacks took a 4-0 lead into the second intermission.
New Hamburg got on the board in the third, potting a pair of power-play goals, but it was too little, too late at that point.
The regular season now in the books, the Jacks now shift to playoff mode, opening the best-of-seven series against the Firebirds Friday night on home ice. The action shifts to New Hamburg Saturday night, then returns to Wellesley on Feb. 12 for game three. All games get underway at 7:30 p.m.