BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Potsdam State Bears ran into a stone wall Friday night at the Sports Arena in Buffalo State, a wall by the name of Nick Berti.
The Bengals goaltender stopped nearly everything that was thrown at him — including the kitchen sink — to lead his team to a 3-2 upset over Potsdam.
In the third period alone, Potsdam outshot Buffalo State, 19-4, yet only managed one goal.
“Best game he played all year,” said Buffalo State coach Jim Fowler, in the understatement of the night.
Potsdam got many scoring chances early on, including a two-on-one where the shooter missed a virtual empty net. When the puck was on goal, Berti was there to make the big save.
Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris agreed, “Give them a lot of credit. Their goalie made the saves when he had to.”
While Berti was holding off the storm on his end, Potsdam’s Ryan Venturelli also had to make some key saves to keep the game scoreless, including stopping Rocky Reeves on a breakaway.
“I thought our guys came out strong,” said Fowler. “After Berti made a few good saves, it definitely gave the guys confidence.”
That confidence enabled Buffalo State to score first, on the power play at 15:37. Ricardo Hernandez let fly a shot from the middle of the blue line that Dave Cadarette deflected on the way. The puck went up and over the left shoulder of Venturelli, nicking the crossbar on the way in.
Despite a first period dominated by Potsdam, Buffalo State found itself ahead, 1-0, at intermission.
The second period was a bit more even, but Berti still had to stop top-notch shots from Potsdam.
While he was doing that, Buffalo State opened up a 3-0 lead. Rocky Reeves scored the second goal that started with a total breakdown for Potsdam which had the power play. Potsdam lost the puck at the blue line, and Morgan McElmore picked it up and skated down the ice.
He let go of a shot that he thought was in, and so did apparently the Potsdam players. However, Venturelli made the stop, but the rebound was pounced on by Reeves, while everyone else just watched. The initial shot was blocked, but the subsequent shot, from a difficult angle, found it’s way in.
This was the fifth shorthanded goal Potsdam has let up in the past four games. “Still haven’t got anyone back there to handle the puck,” explains Thomaris.
With less than two minutes left in the second period, Jason Sirois made it 3-0. He picked up a clearing pass that surprised Potsdam by the angle it bounced off the boards, enabling Sirois to get behind the defensemen. He let go low shot from the right faceoff circle that snuck inside the far post.
Potsdam was able to go into the break with a little bit of a lift when it scored with five seconds left. Mark Stewart skated the puck behind the net and found Mike Snow unmarked in front. Snow quickly one timed it past Berti.
Would that goal deflate the Bengals? Not according to Fowler: “The guys weren’t going to let that bother them. They didn’t get down.”
However, Potsdam scored again midway through the third period to cut the lead to one. Chris Lee skated the puck into the zone, cut across the grain, and flipped it past Berti on the power play.
That was Potsdam’s only power-play goal in eight opportunities. The Buffalo State penalty kill did an excellent job of setting up the box, preventing Potsdam from getting in front of the net, while at the same time pressuring the puck handlers.
Fowler explained his team’s penalty killing philosophy: “Be aggressive, but not be out of control.”
The final 10 minutes saw Potsdam all over the Buffalo State net like … well, like Bears around a honey pot. Berti was at his best during these last ten minutes, and when he wasn’t making a save, the puck was trickling just wide of the post. Potsdam pulled the goalie for the final 1:17, and it still didn’t matter.
“Can’t fall behind 3-0 against a team desperate to win and expect to come back,” said Thomaris.
Potsdam played undermanned the whole game, only able to suit up 17 players. Missing were the top three defensemen — Dave Weagle (deep charley horse), Jim Quilty (attending a funeral), and Mike Smitko (bruised knee). Quilty is expected back for the Fredonia game, but the other two won’t see action again until January. Also missing due to injuries were forwards Eric Peter-Kaiser and Lou Demers.
Would it have mattered? Probably not against Berti, who ended up with 37 saves.
Buffalo State is now 2-4-0 in league play, 3-8-1 overall, and stays home to take on Plattsburgh, which is coming off a 5-2 loss at Fredonia.
Potsdam has now lost three in a row and hasn’t won in its past four, dropping its overall record to 7-5-2 and its conference record to 2-3-1. The Bears travel to Fredonia Saturday afternoon to face the first-place and undefeated Blue Devils.