Since a five-game losing streak at the end of October, the Southern Tier Xpress have been playing better hockey.
That trend continued Saturday night at Northwest Arena as the Xpress carried play for a majority of the game and survived a late penalty to defeat the Roc City Royals, 3-2, in North American Tier III Hockey League action.
Southern Tier has won six of 11 games since the losing skid, picking up 14 of a possible 22 points as they sit in fifth place in the East Division, four points back of fourth-place Toledo.
Roc City forward Brandon Corey, entered the game ninth in the league in scoring with 28 goals and 23 assists for 53 points. It didn’t take long for the 19-year-old to make an impression as teammate Aidan Connolly chipped a puck past a pinching Xpress defender at the blue line and a streaking Corey gained possession. A two-on-one developed and Corey appeared to attempt to send the puck across the crease to a teammate, but ended up beating Southern Tier goaltender Harrison Vangellow from a bad angle for a 1-0 lead on Roc City’s first shot just 1:05 into the game.
“We talked to Vangellow about making the save. Don’t worry about the back-door guy,” Xpress head coach Brian Ramm said. “You have to make that save and our guy has to get the back-door guy.”
The Xpress wasted little time evening the score. Just a few shifts after the Royals’ goal Tommy Muecke got the puck to Jacob St. Andre in the neutral zone before St. Andre went one-on-one with a Roc City defender, eventually fanning on a shot in the slot. The puck slid right onto the stick of a waiting Joey Gerace who slid it past Royals goaltender Freddy Peters for his sixth goal on the season.
“If I could find a way to get 50 pounds on the bottom of his stick, I think he’d find a lot more in front of the net. He gets to the right spot a lot of times,” Ramm said. “Sometimes we forget that he’s so young. … This is his second year and he’s a far better player than he was in his first year.”
“He was on a beeline for the net and, lo and behold, there was the puck. That’s the name of the game nowadays,” Xpress assistant coach Travis Sanders added. “You need to get those bounces, and going to the net he got rewarded.”
Keeping up their relentless pressure, the Xpress capitalized again less than four minutes later. Tristan Mock fed St. Andre behind the Roc City net before St. Andre threw a puck through the crease to a waiting Arttu Rajamaki who buried the puck for his eighth goal on the season.
“Our boys bounced back so quickly,” Sanders said, adding about the bad goal allowed by Vangellow, “it was kind of an afterthought with our boys popping two goals so quickly.”
“There’s a time to be negative and a time to be positive. In those situations, we try not to say anything,” Ramm said about the coaching staff’s reaction to the first goal. “We’ve found with this group that not saying anything and just telling them to keep working, they come back out of it.”
The Royals tied the game midway through the second period as a penalty on the Xpress gave Roc City a 5-on-3 power play for 18 seconds. Just as the first penalty ended, a goal-mouth scramble turned into the tying goal as Corey poked a loose puck past Vangellow for his 30th goal of the season.
“We’d like to find a couple of guys that can play some minutes for us that don’t cost us goals,” Roc City assistant coach Brian Young said. “We need the grinder lines out there, the guys that take pride in just going out and playing some minutes to give our top line some rest so they can get out there and put some pucks in the net.”
Tied at 2-all, the Xpress fought right back to take the lead for good. With Roc City’s Oleg Peliusenok in the penalty box for high sticking, Southern Tier scored its lone power-play goal of the night. Midway through the man-advantage, captain Luke Grossman picked up a puck in the neutral zone and blew by the Royals’ defense before beating Peters high over his glove for his seventh goal of the season.
“After playing them Friday night, we had to be more physical than we were. We kept our physicality up throughout the game,” Ramm said. “Their ‘D’ was getting tired. … We outshot them 48-20. The goalie (Friday) night and (Saturday night) made some huge saves.”
The Xpress gave the Royals a chance to tie things up late in the game when Grant Scharmer took a cross-checking penalty with 1:09 remaining. Trailing by a goal with the faceoff in the Southern Tier zone, Young elected to not pull his goaltender to give his team a two-man advantage.
“He’s the one who kept us in the game. A cheap goal against, I don’t think the kid deserved anything like that,” Young said. “If we got a faceoff at the right time and had the opportunity to pull him I would’ve, but there was no need to.”
The Xpress ended up clearing the puck a couple of times as the clock expired on the Royals with Peters still in his net.
NOTES: Saturday’s game began about 20 minutes later than scheduled. “We had an issue leaving Rochester so the boys ended up piling into some cars,” Young said. “We didn’t have much time for a warm-up so we had to start a little bit softer on the ice.” … The Xpress next play in the midseason NA3HL Showcase next weekend at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota.
Original article by Matt Spielman, The Post-Journal.