So Close, Yet So Far

Xpress Give Jets A Scare, But Metro Still Records 36th Win Without A Loss

For large chunks of Friday night’s North American Tier III Hockey League game against the Metro Jets, the Southern Tier Xpress looked like they might pull off the upset of the season.

But after falling behind 2-0 in the opening 20 minutes, the Jets scored six goals in the final two periods and kept their unblemished 36-0-0 record intact with a 6-4 East Division win at Northwest Arena.

“We’ve had our challenges here and there, but no question this was one of the harder ones,” Metro coach Justin Quenneville said. “They put up a good effort but we still got big saves from our goalie who’s still a stud, and we got big goals from the guys who needed to step up.”

Special teams dominated the game with the Jets going 2 for 7 on the power play while the Xpress were an even more impressive 4 for 8, but a 10-second span midway through the third period proved to be Southern Tier’s undoing.

“I think the guys feel like one slipped away. I watched guys do things they haven’t done all year long — the right things. I saw guys who aren’t regular checkers making hits today, not to crush the guy, but to take the puck away,” Southern Tier coach Brian Ramm said. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t have more calls go our way. With those guys on the power play  you just can’t give them to them.”

Xpress defenseman Bradley Delenko broke a 3-all tie early in the third period when he flicked a seeing-eye shot toward the net from the wall that beat Metro goaltender Andrew Kormos over his blocker to give Southern Tier a 4-3 lead with 15:58 remaining.

The Jets, who entered the night having allowed just 40 goals in 35 games weren’t shaken by the one-goal deficit. With 8:39 remaining, Chase Sereno scored his 10th of the season and just 10 seconds later Sereno’s shot was tipped by Chas Distelrath, trickling behind Xpress goaltender Ryan Pascarella to give the Jets a 5-4 lead with 8:29 remaining.

Southern Tier’s Santeri Rajakallio, center, is mobbed by teammates Luke Grossman, left, and Devin Laird after scoring a first-period goal in Friday night’s NA3HL game at Northwest Arena. P-J photo by Chad Ecklof
Southern Tier’s Santeri Rajakallio, center, is mobbed by teammates Luke Grossman, left, and Devin Laird after scoring a first-period goal in Friday night’s NA3HL game at Northwest Arena. P-J photo by Chad Ecklof

“That was a great first period, even 3-3 at the end of the second period,” Ramm said. “We knew they were going to score goals. It was just a matter of staying with it. We got up 4-3 and a missed call goes the other way. Boom, it’s 4-4, and then it’s 5-4 on a little trickler.”

Southern Tier’s best opportunity to tie the game late came with under six minutes remaining when Santeri Rajakallio got loose in behind the Jets defense and skated the puck to the front of the net, only to be stopped by a sprawling Kormos as he dragged the puck across the crease to the far post.

“We talked this week that if we were going to beat them we had to put at least four or five on the board,” Ramm said. “We knew they were going to put their four or five up. We just had to keep fighting.”

Metro’s Connor Inger completed his hat trick on the power play as he received a cross-ice pass from Marc Schwartz and beat Pascarella up high for his sixth goal of the season with 2:30 remaining.

“We just stick to the process. We’ve got not only a good group of guys, but we just take one game and one week at a time. We never look too far ahead, never get too high and never get too low,” Quenneville said. “As much as those first two goals kind of put us behind the 8-ball early in the first period, we trusted the process and obviously we were fine in the end.”

The opportunistic Xpress jumped on the Jets early as Metro took a penalty for too many men on the ice just 33 seconds into the game. Starting a rush up the ice on the power play, Devin Laird found Cameron Trejchel with an aerial pass at the Jets’ blue line. Trejchel calmly caught the puck, set it down to his stick and skated in alone on Kormos, beating him with an offspeed shot over his glove hand for a quick 1-0 lead.

Southern Tier added to its lead on its third power play of the first period when a Jets defender fell in the neutral zone, giving the Xpress an odd-man rush. Eventually Trejchel found Rajakallio for his 11th goal of the season to give the hosts a 2-0 lead with 49 seconds showing on the clock.

“They’re a scrappy team. They fight, they’ll claw, they’ll do anything for pucks,” Quenneville said. “They’ve got a couple good kids on that team who can really take the puck and make a difference with it if they get chances.”

Southern Tier’s Jacob St. Andre, right, has a shot on net turned aside by Metro goalie Andrew Kormos late in Friday night’s NA3HL game. P-J photo by Chad Ecklof
Southern Tier’s Jacob St. Andre, right, has a shot on net turned aside by Metro goalie Andrew Kormos late in Friday night’s NA3HL game. P-J photo by Chad Ecklof

Metro got back in the game quickly in the second period as Mathias Tellstrom scored his 18th just 28 seconds in before Inger scored on the power play 3:08 into the period. The Jets tied the game a little over five minutes later when Inger scored again to take a 3-2 lead, but Ty Rickabaugh scored his fifth of the year on the power play from Jacob St. Andre and Pascarella with 9:48 remaining to tie the game at 3-all.

Metro turned up the pressure in the third period, forcing Pascarella to make 21 of the 50 total saves he had on the night.

“I thought (Pascarella) had a great game today. He made just some great saves, some blind glove saves,” Ramm said. “We were trying to clog up the shooting lanes. I thought we did a pretty good job in the first couple of periods of keeping them outside and letting (Pascarella) see the shots.”

NOTES: St. Andre and Arttu Rajamaki added assists on Southern Tier’s first-period goals while Rickabaugh and Rajakallio assisted Delenko’s third-period goal.  Friday was just the second time all season Metro has allowed as many as four goals in a game.

Original article by Matt Spielman, The Post-Journal.