Charging into new territory, the Wellesley Applejacks got both the sweet and the bitter last weekend as the Schmalz Cup round-robin series got underway.
After posting a 7-5 win over the Clarington Eagles Friday night, the Jacks fell 4-1 to the Lakeshore Canadiens the following night.
At stake is the Provincial Junior Hockey League championship.
The Jacks got things underway May 5 at the Woolwich Memorial Centre, where Cason Wickie had two goals, including the winner, and an assist to lead Wellesley to victory.
The Applejacks opened the scoring 3:34 into the first period on a goal by Tristian Romany, with assists going to Wickie and Kyle Baker. The Eagles would tie it up 100 seconds later and take a 2-1 lead just after the 10-minute mark before Wellesley’s Curtis Butler would make it 2-2 at 15:57, with assists going to Evan Silveria and Adam Hoff.
The second period saw the Eagles take a 4-2 lead with two quick goals less than four minutes in. A goal by Eric Lacey, assisted by Tristian Huinink and Mitch Penner, brought the Jacks back within one before Jordan Shaw restored Clarington’s two-goal lead at 14:15.
However, the Jacks would tie it up before the period was over on goals by Wickie (Justin McCombs, Penner) and Jake Clemmer (Huinink).
While the first two periods saw both teams take five penalties each, the third period was played entirely at even strength. Wickie potted the winner just over 12 minutes in on a wrister from just outside the faceoff circle, with help from Lacey and Owen O’Donnell. O’Donnell added an assist on the insurance marker by Isiah Katsube with 3:55 left in the game.
Both teams finished 1-4 on the power play. Goaltender Noah Bender stopped 36 shots for the victory, while the Eagles replaced their starter Jude Ronida after two periods. Marc-Olivier Robert made nine saves on 11 shots in the third.
Bender kept the Jacks in the game during the early push by the Eagles, making a couple of big saves on breakaways, said head coach Ryan Gerber.
“They got a lot of speed up front and firepower that we’ve got to take care of if we see them again. But I think as the game went on, we made some adjustments, and the effort by the boys to not quit to come back was absolutely fantastic,” he said.
The comeback was indicative of the year the team has, said president of hockey operations Brock Gerber.
“We kind of had ups and downs throughout the year just kept getting better and better. The boys, no matter what our competition was throughout the year, we always seem to find the way to win,” Brock said.
Saturday was a different story against the Lakeshore Canadiens in Belle River, where penalty trouble cost the Jacks. The Canadiens finished 2-7 on the power play and took 3-0 lead into the third period before Silveria finally got Wellesley on the board at the 14:03 mark of the final frame. However Lakeshore’s Bryce Scarlette potted an empty netter with less than one minute left to put the game out of reach for the Jacks. Wellesley finished 0-9 on the power play, while Bender stopped 34 shots in a losing effort.
“It’s tough on back-to-back days, and less than 24 hours, playing some of the top teams now,” Brock Gerber said of the loss.
The Jacks need to play more disciplined going into next weekend, he added.
“Those two [power play] goals are really the difference in that game… so we’ve got to make sure that we play on the line but don’t cross it.”
The Jacks next face the Stayner Siskins tomorrow night (Friday) in Woodstock, the venue for the rest of the tournament. If they are victorious, they could end up first in the round robin depending on tiebreakers. The semi-finals are set for Saturday and the final is set for Sunday afternoon.
Regardless of the outcome, this season marks the best result ever for the Applejacks as a Junior C team. The team was the South Doherty Division winner and captured the South Conference championship to advance to the final tournament.
The successful season goes back to the start of the year, combined with some timely acquisitions at the trade deadline, Brock said.
“We’ve been able to play that blue collar-style hockey. We want to play in your face, finishing checks, and I give it to the boys and the coaching staff here they’ve found a way to win every night…. That just goes back to the dedication and the character of this group.”