Chautauqua County Humane Society Night at Northwest Arena saw the visiting Toledo Cherokee hang on for a 4-2 victory over the Southern Tier Xpress in North American Tier III Hockey League East Division action on Saturday.
A pair of second-period goals that resulted from slight defensive lapses by the Xpress were too much to overcome in the final period, as Southern Tier fell to 3-2 on the year while Toledo improved to 5-3.
While the Xpress have only allowed 10 goals to date this season, by far the fewest in the division, they sit in third place in the East behind first-place Metro and the Cherokee.
Led by the top-pairing of captain Ty Rickabaugh and Nic Allen, the Southern Tier defensive corps once again played a strong game apart from the two lapses in the second period — it was an inability to finish on the other end of the ice that hindered the team Saturday.
“I was disappointed with our execution of passing the puck, hitting guys in stride, hitting guys on the tape with passes, and also disappointed with the way we missed the net,” coach Lou Santini said following the loss. “We probably
did outshoot them for the game but there were periods of time down low when we have to be more determined on loose pucks and we’ve got to be grittier. When there are scrambles in front there we have to figure out a way to put pucks into the net. We did not do a good job in those two areas tonight.”
Indeed Santini’s team did pepper Cherokee goaltender Ricardo Gonzalez with 57 shots, but in the end only those by Harry Payne and Mickenzie Restle found their way to the back of the net.
“It was evident in the second period and the same thing again in the third period. We had clean shots, clean looks too and we missed the net in the grade-A scoring chances and you’re not going to win hockey games unless you put them on net. Their goalie played well, I give him all the credit, but we gotta be more determined down low to get pucks through and into the net down there,” added Santini.
While an inability to clear pucks out of their defensive slot plagued the Xpress in the middle period, it was a superb drive and shot by EJ Gilbert that put Toledo on the board in the fifth minute of play.
The 6-foot-2 winger was sprung on the rush by an outlet pass from Gonzalez, charging up the righthand side around a defender where he stung a rising backhand over the shoulder of Ryan Pascarella for the 1-0 lead.
In a game that included some avoidable goals for the Xpress, Gilbert’s slick rush and shot in the opening period was not one of them.
Returning fire for Southern Tier was Nate Paar with a blast from the blue line, a shot that resulted in some chances up close and a rebound try by Restle that was dispatched by Gonzalez.
Moments after picking up the opening goal, Gilbert headed back on the same rush, this time firing another backhand off the mask of Pascarella, who would end the night with 34 saves.
Three more chances by the Xpress closed out the opening frame with Restle toe-dragging his way past a defender for a low shot and Stuart Pearson carrying in on a rush that was also turned away before Joey Gerace could hack in a loose puck.
Southern Tier continued with the offensive tenacity in the opening moments of the second, and also killed off a penalty before Payne was sprung into the zone on passes by John Ogeka and Jacob Zwieg. Eyeing his linemates in the slot, Payne elected to let it fly and beat Gonzalez high on the glove side to make it 1-1.
Shortly after Tristin Snyder was denied on a breakaway by Pascarella, Spencer Sandberg was able to get the puck back on net for the Cherokee where Zach Perry stood all alone for an easy finish.
Two minutes later and with just over a minute to play in the second Toledo grabbed its 3-1 lead when Caleb Williams found Michael Papaioannou alone in the slot following a scrum, where he was able to rifle a wrist shot over the glove of a screened Pascarella.
“This time of the year you have some of those little things and we have to clean that up, definitely in front of our goaltender there,” said Santini. “We don’t give too many up, but there were a couple there that we have to be more determined on those loose pucks and get them away from the front of the net. That’s where goals are going to get scored and we’ve gotta do a better job of cleaning up that area.”
A period of four-on-four play following tandem penalties offered fans some wide-open offensive action from both teams, but it was Nick Nappi who added a fourth and final goal for Toledo as he beat Pascarella low glove side with 7:07 remaining.
After a number of odd-man rushes failed to materialize into points for the Xpress, Restle made the most of his open look in the closing minutes, loading up and picking the top right corner thanks to passes by Paar and Tristan Mock.
The Xpress will look to rebound today with an 11:40 puck drop on the road against Pittsburgh.
NOTES: On Nov. 25, Northwest Arena will host the first-ever Jamestown Lakers Alumni Reunion, in conjunction with an anniversary game in remembrance of Alex Foulk. A pair of games are scheduled to be played in the evening and food and refreshments will be available. Please check the Jamestown Lakers Alumni Reunion Facebook Page for more information.