Xpress Unable To Emerge From Two-Goal First-Period Hole

A three-goal spurt to end the first period of play was enough to carry the visiting Lansing Wolves to a 5-2 defeat of the Southern Tier Xpress in NA3HL East Division play at Northwest Arena on Saturday evening.

The Xpress (4-4) were simply unable to muster enough offensive chances to begin their second winning streak of the season, forcing just 23 shots on Michigan goaltender Will Ignatovich while finishing the night 1 of 6 on the power play.

The night began on a high note for the hosts, as Nick Wilcox was able to force a turnover off an attempted Lansing breakout in the first 30 seconds of play.

The Erie, Pennsylvania native then fed the puck right to the goal crease where the ensuing scramble saw Michael Lamison finish off a loose puck for a 1-0 Xpress lead with Tristan Mock earning the second assist.

The early lead was shortlived, however, with the Wolves returning fire three more times before the end of the opening 20 minutes of play.

Southern Tier’s Stuart Pearson carries the puck into the slot during the Xpress’ NA3HL game against Lansing on Saturday evening at Northwest Arena. P-J photo by Chad Ecklof

Tying things with 12:49 remaining for Lansing was Brendan Smith, who was able to jam home a rebound after Garrett Daum ripped a second-chance shot on Southern Tier goaltender Ryan Pascarella that could not be controlled.

“I think the biggest thing is that we’re having periods of time in certain games where we seem to give up a few goals,” Southern Tier coach Lou Santini said. “I think that’s what caught us. In the first period, the first seven or eight minutes, we came out pretty good, then we had that little strip there where all of a sudden we gave up three quick goals and that kind of puts us on our heels a little bit. I think that in some of the losses that’s what we’ve been running into is giving up maybe a few goals in bunches where it is hurting the team.”

Southern Tier came close to evening things up shortly after Smith’s goal when Mickenzie Restle broke into open ice after a give-and-go pass by Joey Gerace, but before Restle was able to get his shot off Southern Tier captain Ty Rickabaugh was booked for a cross-check behind the play.

Despite a well-killed penalty, the Xpress fell into a 2-1 hole after Rickabaugh exited the box as Daum corralled the puck 15 feet in front of Pascarella and spun around for a low shot that was able to sneak under the Xpress goaltenders’ pad.

With 21 seconds left to play in the opener, Michigan was able to take advantage of a fast break on the power play as Smith attempted to drag his way around a defender but was checked off the puck. Unfortunately, Bear Ross was waiting in the wings undefended, picking up Smith’s lost deke and finishing his shot off top corner for the 3-1 lead.

Although Southern Tier struggled to create shots much of the night, one bright spot was Tristan Mock, who was able to begin the second period with a breakaway as the 5-foot-9 speedster shifted to his forehand at the last moment for a shot that just barely missed the back of the net.

The Johnstown, Pennsylvania native was able to beat defenders wide using his speed on several rushes, only to be foiled by goalposts and desperate attempts from Michigan defenders.

“We’ve been doing a couple different things in practice. That was one of the things,” Santini said of Mock’s unfinished breaks. “I mean hopefully sooner or later these things are going to go in for him. I do feel sometimes that he gets hooked and held a little bit when he comes through. It’s just something that he has to work on he knows what he needs to do out there. It’s just maybe bearing down in practice, shooting a few more pucks, learning the angles of where to score on the goaltender a little bit more out there.”

After a pair of strong saves by Pascarella, including one on a wraparound try by Brenden Fehlig, Southern Tier was forced onto the penalty kill, where Gerace took a hard check in the back that drew a crowd, ultimately sending the Xpress to a 4-on-3 advantage.

Shots by Rickabaugh and Allen from the point were both driven away by Ignatovich before Gerace was sent to the box on a slashing call.

Shortly after successfully killing off that penalty, Lansing was able to set up in the offensive zone where Smith fed Noah Pipper with a clean back-door pass for the easy finish and a 4-1 lead.

As the frustration mounted for the Xpress, physical play stepped up with Gerace finishing off a big hit at the Lansing blue line to close out the second period.

Following two failed power-play chances to start the final period, Rickabaugh took matters into his own hands, dropping the gloves at center ice with Jacob Redman, much to the delight of his bench and the Northwest Arena crowd.

Southern Tier’s Michael Lamison chases down a puck. P-J photo by Chad Ecklof

Eating several clean shots did nothing to deter the Southern Tier captain, who, after losing his helmet, was able to finish of Redman with an uppercut before making his way to the locker room.

“It’s always a role that the captain has to learn. When the team needs a pickup one way or another,” Santini said.

Rickabaugh’s fight helped Southern Tier pick up some momentum. Lamison was able to win a puck battle in the corner with 11 minutes to play. From there Gerace was able to find Wilcox open in front for a one-timer finish, with an assist also going to Jacob Zweig on the power-play tally.

The final goal of the evening for Michigan came following a dump-in shot by Weaver that went through the glove of a Southern Tier defender and between the legs of an unsuspecting Pascarella for the 5-2 finish.

Southern Tier will host Lansing once again today at 2 p.m., but will have to do so without their captain and top-pair defenseman Rickabaugh.

If good fortune prevails, the Xpress will not be without the services of Mock, who left the ice limping after a knee-to-knee collision in the closing minutes.

NOTES: The Xpress posted a 3-2 overtime win over Niagara on Friday, thanks to a game-winning goal by Mickenzie Restle with Mock assisting. Stuart Pearson scored both regulation goals for the Xpress and Pascarella ended the night with 35 saves. The Southern Tier goaltender stopped 38 shots in Saturday’s contest.

Original article by Jay Young, The Post-Journal.