Things were looking somewhat bleak for the Southern Tier Xpress down the stretch of Friday night’s North American Tier III Hockey League game against the Toledo Cherokee at Northwest Arena.
Despite outshooting and arguably outplaying Toledo, which entered play with a 2-point lead on Southern Tier for the final playoff spot, the Xpress trailed 3-2 with time winding down in the third period.
However, Southern Tier didn’t give up.
Instead, Cameron Trejchel and Jacob St. Andre stepped up when the Xpress needed them the most.
Trejchel provided the game-tying goal with just 26 seconds remaining — his 12th of the season — and St. Andre came through with his 10th goal of the campaign in overtime to give the Xpress a 4-3 win, arguably their biggest of the season.
“I think they did a good job of showing some grit and finding a way to get the win,” Xpress head coach Brian Ramm stressed. “These guys tonight, down 3-2 the whole third period, just kept coming and playing. (Luke) Grossman goes out and makes a couple big hits, the energy gets picked up. Then they feel that sense of urgency and then, boom, all of the sudden they get (the game-tying goal from Trejchel). The lights come on, the emotion is there and they find a way to get it done in overtime. It shows character.”
After numerous chances throughout the final stanza, Southern Tier (12-12-2) pulled its goalie with the clock running out to try to create a last-second scoring opportunity, which in turn helped provide a golden chance for Trejchel, a forward from Erie, who certainly made the most of it.
“I was just trying to get to the net,” Trejchel said. “Hopefully if it didn’t go in, I had my guys driving to the net (to) hopefully get a rebound and pop it in. Luckily, it went right in the net. It was exciting.”
“That’s so huge for a young guy like that,” Southern Tier assistant coach Travis Sanders added when asked about Trejchel’s tally in the closing seconds. “It felt like he’s been struggling to score lately. He’s kind of been fighting through that and to come up (big) in that way … that’s clutch. That’s what we look for out of our skill guys, our goal-scorers. You want them to come up big when you need them the most.”
Following the end of regulation, St. Andre provided the game winner nearly two minutes into the extra session, when he ripped a shot past Toledo (13-14-1) goalie Adrian Morales.
“It felt really good,” St. Andre said, ”especially going into (tonight’s game against the same Toledo team). We’ve got a lot of adrenaline going in, we have a lot of momentum. We are going to come in hard, I feel like.”
Southern Tier got on the board in the first period when Jacob Zwieg capitalized on a scrum in front of the net. Zwieg’s goal was assisted by Nicholas Wilcox and Cameron Pries. But the Cherokee answered with a strike from Ricky Kwapich with under a minute remaining in the period to tie the score at 1.
“The guys were ready to go,” Ramm said. “(We) came out, (we) were ready to go and then, unfortunately, like we’ve told them, that last minute of a period you just can’t give up a goal. You have to be defensively responsible. We got loose and (Toledo) put it in. And a team like that is going to linger … and then they’re going to capitalize like they did.”
The Xpress responded in the second period when Grant Scharmer scored his first goal of the season on the power play on an assist from Ty Rickabaugh to give Southern Tier a 2-1 lead.
That lead would be short-lived, as Toledo came right back with two goals in under two minutes from Kwapich and Adam Felser to give the Cherokee a slim 3-2 lead heading into the final 20 minutes, which ultimately set the stage for the Xpress’ late-game heroics.
Scharmer added an assist to go along with his power-play goal for Southern Tier and Joseph Gerace had an assist as well. Goalie Ryan Pascarella made 19 saves in net. In total, Southern Tier outshot Toledo, 35-22.
“I’m really proud of them,” Ramm said. “They’re amped up, they’re excited. They’re ready to go. This is huge. To pull this off shows a lot about them.”
Both the Xpress and Cherokee will do battle again tonight back at Northwest Arena in another big game. Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m.
“Three points (in the standings) were divvied out tonight,” Sanders said. “(Toledo) got one and we got two. We closed the gap by one point. It just puts that much more importance (on tonight’s game). It’ll either put us up by 1 point or down by three.”
Original article by Cody Crandall, The Post-Journal.