With the North American Tier III Hockey League season past the halfway mark, points are at a premium for the Southern Tier Xpress if they have any plans of climbing into the East Division’s last playoff spot.
On Saturday evening at Northwest Arena, the Xpress didn’t do themselves any favors, losing 5-3 to last-place Wooster for their seventh straight loss.
The Oilers (8-22-3) took control in the second period, thanks in part to some undisciplined play from Southern Tier (12-18-3).
Entering the frame with a 1-0 lead, the Xpress went a man down when Hunter Kepple took a 4-minute double-minor for spearing after the whistle and was also ejected.
Wooster capitalized just 27 seconds into the power play when Tyler Kallay’s shot from the point beat Harrison Vangellow through traffic to tie the game at 1-all.
Southern Tier took another short-lived lead at the 10:16 mark of the period when Cameron Trejchel threw a pass through the Oilers’ defense and found Arttu Rajamaki open for a shot that beat Wooster goaltender Michael Hubbard high on his glove side for a 2-1 lead.
But 27 seconds later, the Oilers tied the game again as Tyler Groth walked into the Xpress zone and took a slapshot that beat Vangellow high to his blocker side to make it 2-all. Just over two minutes later, Wooster took the lead for good when Cole Barney’s shot on the power play beat a screened Vangellow for a 3-2 Oilers’ lead.
Wooster wasn’t done with its second-period scoring as just over two minutes later, Nicholas Mooney took possession of a puck in the corner and somehow — despite standing 6-foot-6 — Kallay found himself all alone in front of the Xpress net, easily taking a pass from Mooney before beating Vangellow to make it 4-2.
“We realized a lot of mistakes that we had made in the first period. We had to make an adjustment and get our aggressive nature back,” Hernandez said. “We knew we had to make a push and we knew we had to come out hard from the start.”
Despite Cameron Pries being ejected at the end of the second period, the Xpress got back within a goal at the 6:17 mark of the third period when captain Luke Grossman took a perfect pass from Jacob Zwieg at the Wooster blue line and found himself in alone on Hubbard before beating him with a move in tight to make it 4-3.
“Two guys that we expect not to lose their cool, lost their cool,” Southern Tier head coach Brian Ramm said. “We have discussed it with them. As veterans in this game, they cannot be losing their cool.”
With 6:32 remaining, the Oilers put the game away as Jeremy Ross made a long stretch pass from his own zone to Philippe Martineau at the Xpress blue line. The puck got away from Martineau, but he recovered just in time to beat Vangellow with a quick deke to make it 5-3.
“You’re down a goal, you have some momentum so you’re pressing a little bit,” Ramm said. “They stretched the pass and I think Harry (Vangellow) questioned whether he should come out and get it or if he should stay back. … That second guessing seems to be something that will always bite you.”
Down by two goals for much of play during the third period, the Xpress managed just nine shots on the Wooster net.
“I think at times we were passing when we should’ve been shooting. I know they were trying to get some lateral movement to get the goalie to move because a lot of times goalies are coming out and squaring up, but sometimes they are overpassing too,” Ramm said. “Some of our younger guys at times will overpass, but again the older guys have got to step up their game at this point and start taking charge.”
Southern Tier was fortunate to escape the first period with a 1-0 lead, killing off a pair of early Wooster power plays before Grossman entered the zone and worked a perfect give-and-go with Jacob St. Andre before beating Hubbard high to his glove side for a 1-0 Xpress lead.
“Six minutes out of 20 in the first you spend it in the box. You kill them off and get a nice play going to the net,” Ramm said. “It’s just one of those things where you are fortunate. The guys did a good job killing the penalties.”
Southern Tier will host undefeated Metro (34-0-0) at 7 p.m. next Friday and 5 p.m. next Saturday at Northwest Arena before Wooster returns for three more games Feb. 10-12.
“We’ve got to find a way to get some points next weekend. It’s gut check time for a lot of guys,” Ramm said. “Everybody in this building, at one time or another, has seen these guys play some great hockey. They have to step up and then they are going to have to win three in a row against Wooster, that’s the bottom line.”
NOTES: Grant Scharmer finished with two assists while Santeri Rajakallio also had an assist for the Xpress. Ross finished with three assists while Groth and Nicholas Mooney each had two assists for the Oilers.
Vangellow made 44 saves for the Xpress while Hubbard had 28 saves for Wooster.