The month of December got off to a busy start for the Wellesley Applejacks for reasons that had nothing to do with the Christmas rush. Instead, the team played three games in as many nights, skating away with a win, a loss and a draw.
Things got rolling Friday night on the visiting end of a home-and-home series against the Tavistock Braves, with the Jacks coming away with a 4-2 victory over the South Doherty Division’s leading team. Back in Wellesley the following night, the rematch didn’t go so well: the annual Teddy Bear Toss evening saw the home side fall 7-2.
Switching gears on Sunday, the Jacks welcomed the Norwich Merchants for a match that eventually ended 3-3.
Beginning December 1, the Applejacks took the fight to Tavistock on their home turf to come away with a hard-fought victory over the top-dogs, who had lost only once previously.
“Going to Tavistock, they’ve got a very good record,” said head coach Brad Gerber. “We ended up winning that game, [and] that’s only their second regulation loss all season. I thought we went in there with the right frame of mind and we played a full 60-minutes, and [so] we’re very, very pleased to come out with that win.”
Right from the first frame, the Jacks had the opposing team on the ropes, accumulating a two-goal lead.
Kyle Soper potted the Jacks first of the match at 15:49, short-handed and unassisted. Then, with less than a minute on the clock, Wellesley doubled their advantage when Nick Mercier (Kyle Fischer, Soper) scored on the power play to put the visitors up 2-0 going into the intermisison.
The second period saw the Braves push back, with their first goal coming at about the halfway mark. But Spencer Brick (Shaun Pickering, Trent Dundas) put the Jacks up by two again with another power play marker at 17:14.
Entering the final stanza down 3-1, the Braves had plenty of catching up to do. Four-and-half minutes in, they closed the gap with their second of the night, making it a one-goal game yet again.
The tying point never came, however. The Braves pulled their goalie in the dying minutes of the game, which instead allowed Pickering (Nathan Schlupp) to pot an empty-netter. Final score: 4-2.
In the battle of the special teams, the Applejacks came out on top, capitalizing on two of their three power plays and nailing down all three of their penalty kills.
“We were always working on our special teams, power play and penalty kill,” said Gerber. “So it’s nice to see our power play starting to get some goals; hopefully it continues. We just need to keep getting pucks to the net.”
Riding high of Friday’s win, the Jacks welcomed the Braves to Wellesley for a second go of it. Despite the home advantage, however, the Jacks couldn’t quite muster the same magic as the night before.
This time, Tavistock took the lead with a string of three goals before the Jacks had the time to react. Nine minutes in, the Braves potted their first of the match on the power play, and then followed up with another less than 20 seconds later. A third point came four minutes after that, putting them up 3-0 over the home team.
The Jacks were not rolling over, though. At 14-minutes, Brick got one back on the power play, with Mercier and Pickering picking up the assist. The crowd roared and hooted, and flung their plush teddy bears onto the ice in celebration.
When play resumed, Pickering (Alex Uttley, Spencer Brick) went in for a second goal, again just 20 seconds later. That made it 3-2 after 20 minutes.
The second frame was a chance for the Jacks to knot things up, but the game instead went in a wildly different direction. Thirty-seconds after play resumed, the Braves sent yet another puck into the net, again on the power play. The two-point lead quickly widened into a three-point chasm as the Braves came back with their fifth less than a minute later.
At just 1:13 into the second, the Tavistock Braves were sitting with a comfortable 5-2 lead over the Jacks, and they’d never look back.
The final stanza of the game proved to be equally inauspicious as the Braves scored twice more, at 4:53 and then again on the power play at 16:46, bringing the game to a 7-2 conclusion.
“I wish we could have done more for the fans on teddy bear night,” said Spencer Brick after the game.
“We got a little too loose, didn’t stick to the basics [and] fell apart, I guess,” he added, comparing the loss to the previous night’s win.
The special teams were not up to par this time. Both teams had six power play advantages, with the Braves scoring on three and the Jacks on only one.
“After the first period, it was 3-2 – we got a couple of goals back to make it a game again. But Tavistock is a good team. In the second period they got a couple quick ones and that kind of put us down 5-2 … and yeah, we just got frustrated,” said Gerber.
“We got to stay focused and when things aren’t going our way we need to fight through that stuff, and we didn’t do a very good job of it Saturday night.”
Having to put the loss behind them quickly, the Jacks were back on the ice Sunday afternoon for another home game, this time against the Norwich Merchants. The two teams turned out to be quite evenly matched as they traded the lead position, ending the game 3-3 after overtime failed to resolve anything.
Pickering (Brick, Mercier) drew first blood at 4 minutes, earning the Jacks an early lead. The strong start was undermined by the Merchants, however, who answered back with a goal of their own at 6:41, and then a second one less than 30 seconds later.
Wellesley’s Ryan Sparkes (Nathan Smith, Trent Dundas) answered in kind just three minutes later on the power play, knotting the score at 2-2, which is where it would be at the buzzer.
The tiebreaker came halfway through the second frame, with Nathan Smith this time picking up the point (Trent Dundas, Zach Ribeiro). The score now 3-2 in their favour, the Jacks were knocked off their perch in the final minute before the buzzer by a Merchants power play.
“Our bench was a little short to begin with, especially on the defensive side. We talked about that after the second period: we can’t waste energy killing penalties, we’ve got to stay focused and stay out of the box,” said Gerber.
The third period proved to be a protracted slog, with neither side able to pot the tiebreaker, ultimately forcing the game into overtime where the game ended without resolution.
“I give our guys credit. [It was their] third game in three days, they battled hard. I give Norwich credit, they battled as well. I thought both goalies were really good; good-goal tending on both sides. It was a good, hard-fought game by both teams,” said Gerber.
Showing some impressive hustle and skill, as well as some inconsistency, the fifth-place Jacks (12-10-1-1) are going to have to notch some wins to catch up to the fourth-place Paris Mounties (15-8-0-1). This weekend, Wellesley will be playing two away games, first Saturday against Delhi (0-23), followed by a Sunday night match-up against Burford (3-22).