Xpress Break Out

Prior to the start of the 2016-17 North American Tier III Hockey League season, Southern Tier Xpress head coach Brian Ramm stated that he wants players with character, guts and grit, and players that could grind when the going gets tough.

Saturday afternoon against the West Michigan Wolves, all of those traits and more were on display for Southern Tier.

In a game which featured a tremendous deal of physicality, an abundance of ups and downs, and a plethora of fast-paced action, it was the Xpress who bounced back from two straight losses with an impressive 6-4 win in front of the home crowd at Northwest Arena.

“(This win) says that we are a hard-working team,” Ramm said after his team’s first win of the year. “We’re going to keep going and grind and grind and grind. You look at Jamestown. This town was built on grinding. People here work hard. They work hard for their money, they work hard for everything they get. This team I think is a piece of that. We’ve got young guys, we’ve got skill guys. Everybody contributed at some point during this game.”

Members of the Southern Tier Xpress celebrate with goaltender Harrison Vangellow after a 6-4 win over the West Michigan Wolves in NA3HL action Saturday evening at Northwest Arena. Photos by Chad Ecklof
Members of the Southern Tier Xpress celebrate with goaltender Harrison Vangellow after a 6-4 win over the West Michigan Wolves in NA3HL action Saturday evening at Northwest Arena. Photos by Chad Ecklof

Following two consecutive losses, Southern Tier (1-2-0) came out of the gates firing against the Wolves.

Less than six minutes into the game, Tristan Mock managed to find the back of the net for the first time this season to give the Xpress an early 1-0 lead.

Moments later, outstanding hustle from 16-year-old forward Cameron Trejchel resulted in another goal, his first of the 2016-17 campaign, to extend the Southern Tier lead to 2-0. Jacob St. Andre and Cameron Pries assisted on the play.

And Southern Tier’s first-period offensive flurry was capped off when Hunter Kepple deflected in a shot from teammate Jacob Zwieg on the power play. Kepple’s tally was also assisted by Joshua Malin.

Within the game’s first 14 minutes, the Xpress had already built what seemed like a comfortable 3-0 lead and were firing on all cylinders.

“They were ready to go from the time they got here today,” Ramm explained. “They were focused, they were dialed in. (I) didn’t really have to say too much in pregame, just a couple of small things.

They came out ready to go. The credit is all on them.”

Despite Southern Tier’s sound play throughout much of the first 20 minutes, West Michigan, which defeated the Xpress 4-2 on Friday night, answered back with just seconds remaining before intermission when Dakota Ulmer scored from Justin Bloomfield and Robert De La Rosa to pull West Michigan within two.

West Michigan carried the momentum into the second period, evening up the score at 3-all on goals from Bloomfield and Trevor Temple within the period’s first 10 minutes.

Southern Tier’s Jacob St. Andre holds off West Michigan’s Ryan Weaver while pursuing the puck during Saturday’s game. Photo by Chad Ecklof
Southern Tier’s Jacob St. Andre holds off West Michigan’s Ryan Weaver while pursuing the puck during Saturday’s game. Photo by Chad Ecklof

“(Everything) changed when (West Michigan) scored with 1.7 seconds to go (in the first period),” Ramm stressed. “One of the things we talked about at intermission and we showed them was, you cannot mess with the puck inside the last minute. When (West Michigan) scored that goal right there, (West Michigan) thought they were in the game. Next thing you know, it’s 3-3.”

Things looked even worse for the Xpress when Bradley Delenko was called for a penalty at the 10:56 mark.

But St. Andre, a 5-foot-11 forward from Riverview, Michigan, somehow found a way to break free on the penalty kill, raced down the ice and laced a shot past West Michigan goaltender Brian Thomas to give the Xpress the lead back at 4-3.

“It was that right play at the right time,” Ramm emphasized. “It was one of those where it showed the bench that we weren’t out of it. That just showed them, keep working hard, don’t give up, don’t quit (and) don’t get frustrated.”

However, the Wolves once again responded in the third period, when Bloomfield scored his second goal of the game on the power play at the 12:27 mark to tie the score back up at 4-all.

With the score knotted up yet again, the Xpress could have let the frustration take its toll. But instead Southern Tier answered right back almost a minute later, when Nicholas Wilcox fired a shot into the net after another West Michigan penalty, giving Southern Tier the lead for good at 5-4 with around six minutes remaining in the contest. Wilcox’s tally was the Xpress’ second time capitalizing on the man advantage Saturday.

Members of the Southern Tier Xpress celebrate a goal during their NA3HL game against West Michigan on Saturday at Northwest Arena. Photo by Chad Ecklof
Members of the Southern Tier Xpress celebrate a goal during their NA3HL game against West Michigan on Saturday at Northwest Arena. Photo by Chad Ecklof

Trejchel added an empty-net goal, his second of the game, in the final minute to round out the Xpress scoring, while another huge bright spot was outstanding play in net from Harrison Vangellow, who made 29 crucial saves in the victory.

All in all, Southern Tier’s all-around solid play was just what the team needed to find its footing early in the season.

“I think now that confidence for them just grows,” Ramm said. “You start to see come out in their play, they don’t question themselves, they don’t second guess themselves. If they make a mistake, they’ll recover quick. And that’s the team. When we rebuilt this thing, we said ‘Hey we have to have speed, we have to have skill, we have to have (guys that don’t mind) grinding. We have to have people that can come to work, punch (in) and play for 60 minutes.’ And I think these guys resemble that.”

NOTES: Southern Tier will now be off until Friday, Sept. 30, when the Pittsburgh Vengeance visit Northwest Arena.

Original article by Cody Crandall, Post-Journal.