Coming off a difficult 2015-16 on the ice, things may indeed be looking up for the Southern Tier Xpress and head coach Brian Ramm as the team prepares for the upcoming 2016-17 North American Tier III Hockey League season.
Southern Tier will open up regular-season play on the road Friday against the Lockport Express, while the team’s first home game at Northwest Arena will take place Friday, Sept. 16 against the West Michigan Wolves.
The Xpress went 8-35-4 last year, accumulating 20 points, which was good enough for sixth place in the East Division.
However, some of the team’s struggles on the ice allowed Ramm, who will be entering his second season as Southern Tier’s head coach, and his players to understand the true importance of team chemistry.
“First and foremost, the one thing (we realized was essential) was room chemistry,” Ramm emphasized.
“The chemistry in the room has to be good. These guys have to like each other. They don’t necessarily have to hang around with each other outside of the room, but they have to want to fight for one another on the ice and win as a team.”
When rebuilding the team this off-season, Ramm and assistant coach Travis Sanders made it a point to either bring back or look for players they felt could contribute to that positive team cohesion.
“We felt like when we were rebuilding, we needed guys with character, guys with guts, guys with grit, guys that could grind,” Ramm stressed. “Because it is a grind. They have to practice three (or) four days a week and then go into a weekend on the road or here (at the Northwest Arena), play two games back-to-back and you get beat up pretty good. We looked for players who could handle that, who were mentally strong and were willing to battle and fight.”
One notable returner is forward Luke Grossman (Glenshaw, Pennsylvania). Grossman has played two seasons with Southern Tier (2014-15 and 2016-16) and has accumulated 17 goals and 16 assists.
“We thought we were going to lose our captain, Luke Grossman to Slippery Rock,” Ramm explained. “They had a coaching change there, and he decided that he would like to come (back) and play his last year of junior (hockey). That’s your culture. You lose a captain (and) you lose your culture. He comes back and he keeps that culture here.”
Other notable returnees Ramm was quick to point out include Cameron Pries (St. Louis, Missouri) and Jacob St. Andre (Riverview, Michigan). Pries found the back of the net three times last season for the Xpress, while St. Andre tallied four goals in 17 games.
“Those guys are very skilled players,” Ramm stressed. “They were young players last year. I think they learned the league. They learned what it means to be veterans in the league.”
Several returning area players will also be calling Northwest Arena home this season for the Xpress, including both Joseph Gerace (forward) and Jacob Zwieg (forward/defense) of Jamestown, Ryan Pascarella (goaltender) of Lakewood and Tommy Muecke (forward) of Bemus Point.
Gerace scored four times and dished out 10 assists in 45 games last year, while Zwieg dished out two assists. Pascarella made 573 saves and had a save percentage of 0.902. Muecke saw action in six games.
Ramm mentioned that a trio of Erie natives, Nicholas Wilcox, Matthew Crosby and Eriq Schau; Bradley Delenko (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania); Hunter Kepple (Freeport, Pennsylvania); and Joshua Malin (Sherwood, Oregon) will all be back as well.
One of the new players Ramm highlighted was Cameron Trejchel, a young rookie forward from Erie.
“He’s going to center (Cameron) Pries and (Jacob) St. Andre,” Ramm explained. “(In) our exhibition game the other day, he had two goals. He’s quick, he’s fast, he’s explosive, you would never know (he’s only) 16.”
Tristan Mock, a rookie forward from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, is another player to keep an eye on.
“Mock is a high-energy, shifty player,” Sanders stated. “He’s the kind of kid, once you get the puck on his stick, you’re not going to just strip him of it. He’s going to out maneuver you and move the puck to another teammate. The explosiveness is fun to watch out of him.”
Other new talent making their debuts for Southern Tier this season include defenseman Calvin Tonzi (Bolton, Connecticut) and goalkeeper Harrison Vangellow (Rochester), who is already committed to the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
All in all, the Xpress seem to have a solid mix of players who have had the chance to gain experience in the league and young kids who are eager to make their mark. That mix could certainly lead to improved results once the season begins.
“Those guys that are in the room now I think are (a certain way),” Ramm said. “They are hard workers, they are grinders. I think (if we play the way we are capable of playing) we are definitely a playoff team.”
NOTES: Season passes are still available for all 22 Xpress home games this season for $99. The package will include $1 beers for every home game, an Xpress T-shirt and a team logo puck. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, the team will be taking a travel bus for fans to the season opener in Lockport on Friday. Along with the bus ride up and back, the $25 package will include food and beverage. Email email@example.com for more information. Southern Tier’s “School Day” game is scheduled for Oct. 6 against Lockport.
Original article by Post-Journal.,