A few glaring mistakes proved costly as Southern Tier dropped its home opener, 4-2, to West Michigan in NA3HL action Friday night at Northwest Arena.
“I think we had a good effort. I think it was up and down at times. Everyone wanted to come home and perform after a disappointing loss last weekend,” Southern Tier coach Brian Ramm said. “We were physical, we were going to the net, we just had a couple of defensive breakdowns that led to odd-man rushes that are going to kill you all the time.”
The problems started for the Xpress in the second period with Grant Scharmer in the penalty box for checking from behind. West Michigan had its power play set up in the Southern Tier zone when the Wolves’ Dakota Ulmer passed to Justin Bloomfield along the goal line to Xpress goaltender Harrison Vangellow. A Southern Tier defenseman went to the ice in an attempt to block Ulmer’s pass, but failed to do so leaving Thomas Harrison wide open in the slot for a return pass from Bloomfield. Harrison’s shot beat Vangellow under his blocker-side arm pit to give West Michigan a 1-0 lead.
“We talked to Brad (Delenko) about that. Fifty-fifty puck like that, you step up into the hole, but you don’t leave your feet,” Ramm said. “It turned it into a 3-on-1 and that’s not good ever.”
The Wolves extended their lead early in the third on a relatively harmless-looking rush. Trevor Temple made a pass to Nicholas Guy who found Collin Rewerts streaking down the left-wing boards. Rewerts skated toward the faceoff dot to Vangellow’s right and the Southern Tier goaltender partially fanned on Rewerts’ shot, which ended up in the back of the net.
“The Southern Tier team they have this year has a lot of speed and grit. We know every time we play them it’s going to be a tough game,” West Michigan coach Mark Lawrence said. “I think our goaltender stepped up today. I think we had some ‘bus legs’ in the first period, our goalie kept us in it and gave us a chance to win.”
The Xpress answered less than four minutes later while on a 5-on-3 power play. Joe Gerace fed Grant Scharmer at the point and his one-timer went off goaltender Sam Woznicki’s left pad directly to Cameron Pries who put it high into the yawning net to pull the home team within a goal.
But Harrison answered again for the Wolves as Guy stole a Southern Tier outlet pass just in front of the West Michigan blue line, beat the same Xpress defender who made the bad pass at the Southern Tier blue line, then fed Harrison in front of the net for an easy deke to beat Vangellow.
“We were right back there, and then they popped the third one on a bad decision coming up the boards,” Ramm said. “You see that there is a guy in between you and that man. Instead we tried to force a bad pass, we step up and miss the guy, now it’s an odd-man rush. We overcommit and lose the battle.”
Dakota Ulmer put the game away with a little more than five minutes remaining. A Southern Tier defender lost the puck in his feet near center ice and Ulmer went in on a clean breakaway, beating Vangellow to his glove side for a 4-1 West Michigan lead.
“Dakota Ulmer was one of the league leaders last year and he’s probably not the guy you want to give a breakaway to,” Lawrence said. “He capitalized on that mistake. That’s the game of hockey.”
The Xpress answered quickly when Luke Grossman found Daniel Smith below the Wolves’ goal line moments later. Smith took the puck to the front of the net and slid it under Woznicki toward the left side of the crease where Nicholas Wilcox poke the puck home for his first goal of the season with under five minutes remaining.
Southern Tier carried the play in the first period while only putting nine shots on the West Michigan net. Jacob St. Andre had the best chance of the period for the Xpress around the 10-minute mark when he broke in on Woznicki after a bad Wolves’ line change, but St. Andre’s shot found Woznicki’s glove.
“Had we have gotten that goal, maybe we get some energy and some push,” Ramm said. “I definitely feel we are growing and heading in the right direction. You have to do the small things that make the good teams great.”
One of the Xpress’ top players all evening long was 16-year-old Erie product Cameron Trejchel, who flashed his excellent speed and puck handling repeatedly in the West Michigan end of the ice.
“He’s an exciting kid. You wouldn’t know he’s 16 by the way he plays,” Ramm said about Trejchel. “He’s going to find that touch here in the next couple of games. The game is going to slow down for him and then he’s going to give himself that extra split second to pull the trigger or hit that spot.”
The teams will faceoff again tonight at 5 p.m. before the Xpress are off next weekend.
NOTES: West Michigan outshot the Xpress, 44-30. Harrison was named the First Star, Guy was the Second Star and Ulmer was the Third Star. West Michigan was whistled for 12 penalties while Southern Tier was called for 11.