First Impressions

Xpress Pre-Draft Camp Gives New Coach Santini First Look At Players

While the weather outside heated up this weekend, so did the competition inside Northwest Arena.

The Southern Tier Xpress held their pre-draft camp Saturday and Sunday open to prospective players for the upcoming 2017-18 North American Tier III Hockey League season.

The camp was also the first chance for first-year general manager Travis Sanders and new head coach Lou Santini to work together in person.

Santini comes to the Xpress with an extensive amateur and professional coaching background. For the past decade, Santini has been an assistant coach with NCAA Division I Sacred Heart. Prior to that, Santini was an assistant in the United States Hockey League, the International Hockey League and the East Coach Hockey League.

“A big thing with me was that I wanted to stay in New York state,” Santini said Saturday night after the weekend’s second scrimmage. “I’ve known Jamestown for a little bit of time starting out in the North American Hockey League and obviously with the NA3HL team now. I was familiar with the program and familiar with the area here.”

Forward Tristan Mock skates in alone on goaltender Ryan Pascarella during the fourth scrimmage of the Southern Tier Xpress’ pre-draft camp Sunday afternoon at Northwest Arena. P-J photo by Matt Spielman

The Xpress will be looking to rebound from back-to-back losing seasons under former coach Brian Ramm. Those campaigns followed a successful debut season in the league under first-year head coach Rylan Galiardi.

“When Rylan Galiardi was there the first year there was a lot of success. We had a head coach/GM the last two years and the writing, in some cases, is on the wall with regard to the record,” Sanders said. “I’ve been here since Day 1 helping out and involved in the community so the general manager position made sense. We started the coaching search and were introduced to Lou. Here we are.”

Joe Gerace, Tristan Mock and Ryan Pascarella were just a few of the number of familiar faces on the ice this weekend competing for spots to return to the Xpress.

“There are a few guys we are definitely planning on having back and there are a few that are fighting for their spot,” Sanders said, without committing to any of the players trying out. “There are players here that are potentially draft picks and there are kids that we may sign prior to the draft.”

The pre-draft camp consisted of four scrimmages over two days. Each scrimmage was made up of three 25-minute running-clock periods with a Zamboni scrape midway through the second period. There was also a goalie-specific session.

Nate Paar of Olean skates away from a defender during Sunday’s second scrimmage. P-J photo by Matt Spielman

“When you have a coaching change at the top, some coaches have different appetites than others,” Sanders said. “The same goes with a GM change. There are a lot of changes and we want to build the best program we can here. But we also want to serve the players who have put their time in here.”

Southern Tier will be looking to put together a roster that makes them much more competitive in the East Division of the NA3HL. Last season the Metro Jets went an astounding 47-0-0 in the regular season, outscoring opponents 262-55. That put them 35 points ahead of second-place Pittsburgh and a full 60 points ahead of the Xpress.

“I think everything is a maturation process. I think that is the important thing that you have to look at. I’ve been with this age group before and I know the type of kids that you have to work with. I know what they’ve been through, what they’re feeling and what their overall goals are,” Santini said. “You have to remember the team comes first but you also have to work with what players need to develop, with their skill level, with their mental level, with their training off the ice as well as on the ice. I think the development factor is very important.”

Jacob St. Andre led Southern Tier in scoring last season with 46 points on 14 goals and 32 assists while Cameron Trejchel had 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) and Santeri Rajakallio had 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists).

“I would say that a little size would be nice. We’ve had a lot of small, fast players, but size is always nice to complement that too,” Sanders said. “Speed is imperative whether you are a big guy or a small guy. When you are the first on the puck that makes a big difference in the possession game.”

Pascarella went 8-11-2 in net with a 3.62 goals against average, but his save percentage of .911 was more than respectable, and he did earn two shutouts.

Mackenzie Restle skates to the puck during Sunday’s second scrimmage at Northwest Arena. P-J photo by Matt Spielman

“I think the most important thing is for them to have options, either going to college or possibly North American Hockey League teams,” Santini said when asked what he would like players to get out of the Xpress. “Just to see guys who know they need two years just to improve hopefully they make a big step this year until the end of the season and then are able to look at more options for them next year.”

The Xpress will now be allowed to sign a certain number of players from their tryout before the remainder are entered into the NA3HL draft pool. The draft will begin Tuesday at 6 p.m. on na3hldraft.com or on Twitter @na3hl. Southern Tier will make an announcement of players signings toward the end of the week.

“There are some players that we are talking to who are already playing juniors in different leagues around the country. They are looking for different exposure avenues, better exposure in some cases,” Sanders said. ”  Obviously playing for a coach like Santini excites a lot of players.”

Original Article by Matt Spielman, The Post-Journal.