Watching high-level hockey over the past five or 10 years, whether that be in the NHL, NCAA or World Juniors, you notice that one thing tends to separate the players and teams that truly stand out on the ice from the rest of the pack — speed.
Size, strength, shot, can all be overcome by the great equalizer of quickness.
That is an observation that first year Southern Tier Xpress head coach Lou Santini has made countless times over the course of his career, and that will remain his focus during the upcoming North American Tier III Hockey League season.
When the Xpress take to the ice for the first time this Saturday at 7 p.m. against Wooster, they will do so with a roster that emphasizes the reliance on speed and movement that Santini honed during his years as an assistant coach at Sacred Heart University and Middlebury College.
“We wanted to institute a puck-movement style type of team,” said Santini at his office inside Northwest Arena on Tuesday afternoon. “We wanted to get faster, we wanted to have good team speed. We wanted to have defensemen that can handle the puck and get up and down the ice, join the play and get back. So I think those are the key elements that we were kind of figuring out through camp and through these past three weeks.”
The system that Santini has implemented with his players over the span of preseason camp, and the attributes that he looked for during team tryouts, all aim to build a roster that can thrive as the pace of play increases.
“Old-time hockey is great, I know people love the hitting, love the smashmouth type of things, the physical play,” admitted Santini, “but you see with World Juniors, Olympics, NHL hockey, just the way the game is going right now, it’s a speed game. You gotta move, it’s all quickness, and that’s the way the game is being played right now.”
Aiding Santini’s vision for his new team have been Xpress general manager Travis Sanders, and strength and conditioning coach Anthony Tridico, both of whom have been working to make sure that their roster of 19 has put in the appropriate work both on and off the ice.
While Sanders has seen the Xpress through different coaches in his tenure with the team, the changes that have occurred under Santini have him especially hopeful for this year’s season.
“I think the possession mindset, getting everyone involved offensively and the puck movement is really what is a new flavor for a lot of the returners right now, even myself, being around for a while,” Sanders said.
The Southern Tier Xpress celebrate a goal during Saturday’s scrimmage at Northwest Arena. The Xpress will have to score a few more goals this upcoming season if they expect to reach the NA3HL playoffs. P-J photo by Chad Ecklof
Returning this year along with Sanders in the front office are local players Jacob Zwieg, Joey Gerace, Tommy Muecke and goaltender Ryan Pascarella. Adding to the local appeal of the team are recent additions including Nic Allen of Russel, Pennsylvania, who spent last season on the ice in Cleveland, and Nate Paar of Olean, a former Jamestown Laker.
Entering the season, Ty Rickabaugh of Johnstown, Pennsylvania will wear the ‘C’ for the Xpress, with Zwieg and Michael Lamison of Johnstown serving as assistant captains.
Commenting on his captain and assistants, Santini noted that the trio are, “veteran guys, guys who are good in the locker room, I think it should be a good fit. From off the ice to on the ice, I think a lot of guys believe in their leadership and that’s what we are hoping will carry over.”
In addition to enjoying working at his new facility, Santini has also been pleased with the community involvement and the Xpress fan base, which was already notable at the team’s first preseason game.
“We had a really nice crowd for our preseason game so, the community is very supportive, the rink is great. It just adds more of a flavor for the guys to play,” he said.
Continuing on with their tradition of years past, the Xpress will once again host several themed home games this season, the first of which will be on Sept. 30 in partnership with the Chautauqua County Humane Society.
As noted by Sanders, the team will also host a game at the conclusion of the Jamestown Christmas Parade, a Veterans Day appreciation game, and a school-day game for local children to attend.
“It’s something you can’t do too much of, quite frankly,” Sanders said of community involvement with the team. “We were just down at the Labor Day festival (Monday), and I know that the kids appreciate seeing them out and the guys appreciate being out there and seeing the community support first hand.”
As for results this season, the expectations are high for the Xpress staff and players. The Division rival Metro Jets of Fraser, Michigan look to once again be the team to beat.
“Metro is usually going to be pretty strong, they have quite the storied background out there,” Sanders said, “but I’d love to challenge them and keep pushing.”
Original article by Jay Young, The Post-Journal.