Jacks claim their first-ever Schmalz Cup as top Junior C team

Last updated on May 18, 23

Posted on May 18, 23

4 min read

After an intense three games in three days last weekend, the Wellesley Applejacks took home its first-ever Schmalz Cup with a 3-2 win over the Clarington Eagles in Woodstock on Sunday.

“We didn’t take our foot off the pedal all weekend. The boys played really well. They stuck together and stuck to our game plan and played that blue collar style hockey we want to play. They got rewarded at the end of the weekend there, so we’re really happy,” said general manager Brock Gerber.

A 5-3 win over the Stayner Siskins on Friday gave the Applejacks a 2-1 record and first place in the final four round-robin tournament.

Curtis Butler opened the scoring at 3:08, assisted by Eric Lacey and Dimitri Eleftheriadis. A shorthanded goal for Stayner tied the game at 6:48. The Jacks would make it 3-1 before the period was out on goals Connor Doerbecker, assisted by Tristian Romany at 17:52, and Kyle Baker (unassisted) just 26 seconds later.

In the second, Wellesley added a short-hander of their own when Isiah Katsube scored at 7:17; Stayner’s Christopher Prucha would pull his team back within two with no time left on the clock in the period. However, it did not take long for the Jacks to get that back in the third when Baker added his second goal of the game (assisted by Austin Stemmler) just 33 seconds in.

Although the Siskins would get one more at 5:27, it would not be enough.

Wellesley went 1-5 with the man advantage in a penalty-filled affair, while Stayner managed just one goal in eight opportunities. Derek Hartley stopped 25 of 30 shots, while Applejacks starter Noah Bender stopped 23 of 26.

The win set up a Saturday semi-final matchup with the Lakeshore Canadiens, with the Applejacks taking a 3-2 overtime win over the only team that defeated them in the round-robin.

Wellesley’s Katsube opened the scoring for the Jacks unassisted at 16:59 of the first period. Lakeshore’s Matthew Herniman scored at 6:42 of the second to tie it up at one heading into the third. Lakeshore took a 2-1 lead at 5:49 before Adam Hoff tied it up for the Jacks at 13:30, assisted by Curtis Butler.

The score would remain tied before Wellesley native Koby Seiling played the hero at 3:59 of overtime on a rebound goal assisted by Hoff.

Romano Liburdi stopped 28 of 31 shots, while Bender turned away 19 of 21 in the win. Neither team scored on the power play, with Lakeshore going 0-2 and the Jacks going 0-3.

Gerber noted that Seiling has been with the team for five seasons, including the 2019 Doherty Division winning team, and this was his final season in the league.

“He’s been with us for so long. It’s a pretty exciting thing.”

The final against Clarington was a more tight-checking game than the 7-5 victory the Jacks got in game one of the round-robin. After a scoreless first period, Katsube again opened the scoring at 1:24 into the second with assists going to Justin McCombs and Baker. Clarington’s Adam Class tied it up at 15:14, but Wellesley took the lead again just 2:39 later on a goal from  Carson Wickie (Baker, Jake Clemmer).

Shortly into the third, Wellesley’s Connor Bradley intercepted a pass just inside his blue line and then fed Doerbecker, who, with a great individual effort, deked around a Clarington defender for the 3-1 goal at 2:38. That would be the eventual game-winner as the Eagle’s comeback fell just short.

The Eagles finished 0-5 on the power play, while the Applejacks were 0-3. Marc-Olivier Robert made 21 saves on 24 shots, while Bender once again got the win, stopping 26 of 28 shots.

Bender was also named PJHL playoff MVP. At just 16 years old, Bender answered all the questions he needed to, Gerber said.

“He stood on his head and won us a lot of hockey games this year where we really shouldn’t have won that hockey game, and Noah was there for us. Down the stretch, he just put a hell of a run together. He’s an amazing kid who works hard every day. He goes to his goaltender coach throughout the week all year long and then showed up,” Gerber added.

Bender said he did not expect to be named MVP, arguing many guys on the team could have won the award.

“We’ve got lots of really good players this year. Lots of guys who contributed to our success, so to be able to be the guy who was named MVP is huge.”

Being a Schmalz Cup champion sounds “amazing,” Bender said.

“Obviously, anyone who goes into Junior C knows that Schmalz Cup is the biggest trophy there. It’s said to be the hardest Junior trophy to win, so to be able to win that and be a Schmalz Cup champion is amazing.”

The championship hasn’t sunk in yet for Gerber, who noted that the achievement had been nine years in the making.

“There’s been a lot of volunteers and executive members over the years that put in a lot of time and, us guys like on the hockey side, we just stuck with it, just kept going year after year and building a little bit at a time and we finally got to where we’re at. We can sit back now that it’s done, and then enjoy it for a little bit,” he said.

Any downtime is likely to be short-lived, however, as work is already underway preparing for next season’s lineup, which is expected to take to the ice at the new Wellesley Township Recreation Centre.

There’ll be an interlude on July 8, of course, as the club hosts its annual charity golf tournament.

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Bill Atwood

Bill Atwood is a full-time journalist / photographer at The Observer.

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