The Woodstock Navy Vets opened the Provincial Junior Hockey League season with wins over the Norwich Merchants and Wellesley Applejacks
The Woodstock Navy Vets had a bit of everything their first weekend of the season.
They had a close but decisive win Friday in a 4-2 victory over the Wellesley Applejacks. Then followed it by coming from behind to score five goals in the third of their Saturday 5-3 win against the Norwich Merchants.
While their opposition managed to score first in both games, Vets head coach Matt Paton said they continued to improve as each game went on and put themselves into a position to win.
“I tell the kids every time we go on the ice in either a practice or game, we’re going to get better. Same with every period. First, second, third, let’s get better,” he said after Saturday’s win. “We had a slow start both nights, and we don’t want that every time, but we got better with every period.
“I was really happy with how they responded,” Paton added. “It’s a character win early in the season and it’s a good team builder to win like that.”
Friday’s home opener for Woodstock saw 1,510 people attend, making it the highest attended Woodstock game since 2002 during their Schmalz Cup semifinal series against Essex. Norwich had 600 people attend their 50th anniversary home opener, while several hundred more took in pre- and post-game festivities to launch the team’s 50th anniversary season outside the arena.
After jumping out to an early lead, Norwich tacked on goals to give themselves a 3-0 advantage in the final 20 minutes. But penalties and Woodstock killing off a pivotal 5-on-3 power play while down 3-1 saw the Navy Vets come back with three goals in a seven minute span.
“We ran out of gas. We missed some plays and we didn’t move the puck like we should’ve. That was the difference,” Norwich head coach Dave Smith said. “I told them before the third if they (Woodstock) get one, they’re going to come. They did. I’ve seen it 100 times. It’s only the first game though.
“We were fine for two periods… We took some undisciplined penalties, which didn’t help, but so did they,” he added. “I give them credit. They never died and you could tell if they got one they’d keep coming.”
In their Friday game, Wellesley started the scoring when Kyle Soper connected on the power play at 6:53. The Vets scored the next four goals, beginning with Dylan Wettlaufer at 16:04 on an assist from Kyle Walker. Noah Burns made it 2-1 at 19:13 of the second with Connor Dick and Jack Dorey getting assists. Wettlaufer scored the next two goals at 3:55 and 5:50 to finish the hat trick. Walker had an assist on both and Austin Sine also had one on Wettlaufer’s second goal. Nick Mercier cut the lead in half with a power play goal at 10:01, but Woodstock held on for the 4-2 win.
Woodstock’s Keaghan Brett made 20 saves and Ryan Porter had 22 for Wellesley.
On Saturday, Blake Pow opened the scoring with an assist from Mason Cooper and Simon Storoschuk made it 2-0 with five minutes left in the first as Cooper earned his second assist. Matt Larochelle gave Norwich a 3-0 lead on the power play with assists coming from Troy Lamoure and Ryan Dayman.
The Vets began chipping away at the lead when Austin Sine scored at 5:34 as Josh Wright and Walker had assists. Walker then scored the next three goals starting at 9:08 on an assist from Wettlaufer. His second came at 11:25 from Wright and Dorey and then completed the hat trick at 15:49 with Chris Thompson assisting. Cam Leslie sealed the game with an unassisted empty net goal at 19:45.
Brett had 27 saves in Woodstock’s net and Tyler Gubesch made 26 stops for Norwich.
Woodstock struggled on the power play at a 0-19 mark over the weekend, while Norwich was 1-for-6 and Wellesley 2-for-6.
For Norwich, it was a tough defeat to begin the year but with 39 games ahead of them it’ll be a distant memory before their next game Friday. With a roster on the younger side, Smith said it’s a chance to learn and grow as a team.
“As long as we learn from it, I’m fine with it. They’re (Woodstock) on a roll and they never hit the stop button. We did. It’s all stuff we can fix. We didn’t do what we should’ve done. Our game plan was good, but we made mistakes, left guys uncovered we shouldn’t have,” Smith said. “It happens in the NHL and it happens everywhere… I should’ve changed (the game plan in the third) and maybe gone in defensively because we lost a few players and were short. I didn’t and I can take ownership on that. We can learn from this.”
Though early on, Woodstock has shown promise as they carried a 6-0 preseason record into the regular season. They’ve shown the ability to create scoring chances and with an offensive laden club, the potential for one of their best seasons in recent years is within grasp in the coming months.
“You’re not going to be the best version of your team on day one of the season, but as long as we’re getting better every day and we play within the systems and are disciplined you’re going to improve,” Paton said. “It helps the team (coming from behind), so when you get into adversity later in the season when you’re fighting for a spot in the standings, you’re confident and you can bring it if you’re down three goals or in other situations. They worked hard all weekend.”
Woodstock Navy Vets 4
Wellesley Applejacks 2
Woodstock goals: Dylan Wettlaufer (3) and Noah Burns
Wellesley goals: Kyle Soper and Nick Mercier
Woodstock Navy Vets 5
Norwich Merchants 3
Woodstock goals: Kyle Walker (3), Austin Sine and Cam Leslie
Norwich goals: Blake Pow, Matt Larochelle and Simon Storoschuk
Next: Woodstock hosts the New Hamburg Firebirds Friday at 7:45 p.m. and the Norwich Merchants host the Delhi Travellers Friday at 8 p.m. then visit New Hamburg Saturday.