First playoff series as part of Junior C league a real learning experience for Wellesley squad
In a series that was decided on home ice, the Wellesley Applejacks simply had the odds stacked against them: the opposing Merchants had the advantage of playing four of seven in Norwich.
The seesaw battle and the Jack’s first season in the Midwestern Junior C League came to an end Sunday night in the seventh and deciding game, a 6-2 loss.
Joining a new league after moving up from Junior D and facing stronger competition, the boys took their first playoff series to seven games. That’s something to be happy with, to build on, said head coach Rob Way.
“I was very proud of them. I thought they came together as a team very well in the playoffs and they battled hard. We were playing a team that has been a finalist in the Junior C league for the last three years,” he said.
The series was a whirlwind nine days for the team, kicking off February 7 in Norwich and ending there on February 16. The grind of the first round included three games in as many days to decide a winner. The final sprint started with a 5-1 loss on Valentine’s Day. The Merchants scored the first four goals, at 2:04 in the first period then in second at 9:10, 11:09 on a power play and 12:11 while Wellesley didn’t find the back of the net until their sole goal by Alex Stoody (assisted by Brett MacDonald and Devon Wagner) at 12:45. Norwich would put up a final goal at 4:04 in the third period.
Norwich’s win put the team ahead 3-2 in the series.
In keeping with the pattern of alternating wins to the home team, the Jacks were due to win back in Wellesley on Saturday. They did, but it wasn’t easy. The team needed overtime to post a 7-6 victory. It was perhaps the Jacks’ most exciting game of the season, Way suggested. It was certainly a nerve-racking affair for the noisy fans in the stands.
Norwich got on the board first at 8:01, but indicative of the back-and-forth flow to come, Wellesley’s Luke Rose (Wagner, MacDonald) even it up just over two minutes later, scoring on a power play. The puck flew across the ice as Norwich scored again at 14:26, then Wellesley twice at 16:28 and 18:23 by Blake Hetherington (Rose, Wagner) and Stoody (MacDonald, Cody Tapsell) both with a man advantage. Norwich potted one in the last minute making the score 3-3 before going back to the room. Shots were 14-8 in favour of the visitors.
The teams spent much of the game locked in the vice of tied scores. Coming back for second, the Merchants scored at 2:11 before Jacks’ Parker Wood (unassisted) put one in the net at 5:24, followed by Alex Stoody (MacDonald, Taylor Doering) at 6:26.
Wellesley took a 5-4 lead into the second intermission.
In the third, Wellesley enjoyed the evening’s only two-goal lead, even if it was short-lived, when Rose (Wood, Sean McEwan) scored the first goal of the period at 8:33. Norwich countered at 11:39 and the scored a last-minute heart-stopper to knot things up at 6-6 and force overtime.
The teams would play almost another full period before Stoody earned himself a hat trick and the crowd’s approval by potting the winner at 18:39.
“It was one of our most exciting games of the year: hard fought, well played. We got it to game 7 and [the next day] down in Norwich it was 3-2 with just a few seconds left in the game. We had to take some chances and they ended up scoring empty-netters. It could have gone either way, it was down to the last period,” said Way.
The seventh game would see the Jacks finally fall to the onslaught of a competitive team that outshot then 34-24, with two empty-net goals in the final minutes of play as Wellesley tried to get back into the game.
Norwich was first on the score board at 2:29 and Wagner answered unassisted at 11:01 during a power play. Norwich posted two more goals in the second period, just 10 seconds in and another at 17:02 before Reid Denstedt (Hetherington, Doering) scored at 1:56 in the third period. That’s when Norwich buried the Jacks with three more goals at 8:45, 12:00 and a last power play goal at 18:13.
It’s the end of a playing season for the team but just the beginning for those coming back next year. Veteran goaltender Josh Heer leaves the team with a GAA of 4.14 and a save percentage of .883 with rookie goalie Brayden Bruce in line to take over next season.
“We took a really good Junior C team to game seven, so it was a really good start for us in the new league. We’ve got our captains back [next year] and the top scorer, Alex Stoody, is back. We’ve got some good punch coming back and some young guys who played some key roles for us as rookies who will have a year under their belt and be stronger next year,” Way said.