Xpress Ready For Another Run At Metro

Southern Tier goaltender Brandon Heacock and the rest of the Xpress celebrate a Feb. 16 win over Metro that jump-started a 9-3-0 run to end the NA3HL regular season. P-J file photo

Having already known they will have to knock off the talented Metro Jets in order to advance in the North American Tier III Hockey League’s Fraser Cup playoffs, the Southern Tier Xpress now know when they will have to do it.

Northwest Arena will be the site of Game 1 of the best-of-three East Division semifinal series Thursday with a 7 p.m. puck drop.

“Any time you are in playoffs it’s about getting momentum and starting on a positive note,” Xpress head coach Lou Santini said Monday night. “That’s what we are looking at with the first game … to be successful at home and take that momentum on the road with us.”

Game 2 will be Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Metro’s Fraser Hockeyland while an if-necessary Game 3 would be Sunday at 12:45 p.m. in Fraser, Michigan.

Metro finished the regular season 40-6-1 overall, but one of those six losses was against Southern Tier, 4-3, back on Feb. 16 at Northwest Arena.

Hunter Kepple and the Southern Tier Xpress beat the Metro Jets, 4-3, the last time they faced off in Jamestown. P-J file photo

“The Metro win gave us a lot of confidence, and so did the next day to go into Pittsburgh and win,” Santini said, “both of those wins really helped identify what we could be as a team.”

The victory was part of a 9-3-0 final 12 games of the season for the Xpress (23-24-0) that helped them knock Wooster out of the playoffs on the final day of the season Sunday.

“I think we’ve had a better team mentality since we came back from break in January,” Santini said. “I think the team has really pulled together as a group and really worked hard for one another to improve.”

Local product Joey Gerace led the Xpress in scoring this season with 52 points that included a team-high 31 assists and 21 goals, which were second on the team. Stuart Pearson of New Richmond, Wisconsin was second in scoring with 51 points and first in goals with 28 while chipping in 23 assists. Johnstown, Pennsylvania native Michael Lamison was third in scoring with 42 points, including a team-high 32 assists and 10 goals.

“It’s been an excellent line for us. We put them together around the end of the first half of the season,” Santini said. “It’s really taken off in the second half. They’ve really grown together as a group.”

Buffalo product Brian Grant was Southern Tier’s highest-scoring defenseman with 19 points, including four goals and 15 assists.

“Brian Grant has had a great second half of the season, He works so hard on and off the ice,” Santini said. “He’s a great role model and leader for the rest of the defensive corps.”

Xpress goaltender Ryan Pascarella (Lakewood) finished the season with an 18-17 record that included three shutouts. Pascarella had a 3.13 goals against average and a .916 save percentage.

“He’s been very good down the stretch, especially his last six games,” Santini said. “You can’t always go by the numbers. He’s made big saves at big times, carried momentum and given us opportunities to get the next goal.”

Metro leading scorer Connor Inger was sixth in the league with 41 goals to go along with 52 assists for 93 points. Griffin Sawyer had 16 goals and 35 assists for 51 points while Robby Flannery was the Jets’ leading scorer on defense with 14 goals and 33 assists for 47 points.

“We’ve been able to play our positions a little bit better against them and not run around as much,” Santini said. “That’s been the key to playing them well down the stretch here.”

Brian Tallieu (Davison, Mich.) and Andrew Kormos (Milford, Mich.) played nearly the same number of games in net for the Jets. Tallieu had better numbers with a 1.54 goals against average and a .935 save percentage to go along with four shutouts while Kormos had a 2.21 GAA and a .915 save percentage with three shutouts.

The winner of the Xpress-Jets series will take on the winner of another East Division semifinal series between the second-seeded Pittsburgh Vengeance and third-seeded Lansing Wolves.

“Metro has an outstanding work ethic. They have good, speedy forwards and a defense that likes to jump into the rush,” Santini said. “Their style of play catches people off-guard. It’s good that we’ve played them before so we have a good idea of what they bring to the table.

“We know what we are up against and we are ready for the challenge.”