CORTLAND, N.Y. — Potsdam’s Chris Lee shook off an early-game curse, and Ryan Venturelli once again put in a busy night between the pipes to lead the Bears to a 7-2 road victory over the Cortland Red Dragons.
Lee, who came into the game as Potsdam’s leading scorer due to racking up 12 assists versus four goals, skated hard from the start, but his blistering slapshot only found the goaltender’s best friend — the post. And when the first goal was credited to him, it was later taken away. Lee finally broke through, helping Potsdam put the game away with a natural hat trick.
Meanwhile, Venturelli, who last week made 74 saves — without playing two complete games — in the Primelink Great Northern Shootout, got no rest, as he faced 42 shots, 16 in the first period.
“He played a great game, especially in the first period,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said. “Could have been 4-1 in their favor.”
In fact, Cortland did score first on a power play just 1:21 into the game. With Miles Palliser sitting out for slashing, Cortland worked the puck in close. For a moment, nobody noticed the puck, but finally Tim Earl found it first and swiped at it, getting it by Venturelli.
Lee thought he had the game tied up, but his slapshot from the left point as he raced into the zone smacked off the far post.
Potsdam did tie it up when Mike Smitko slid the puck under a defensemen’s legs who, along with Lee, screened Mark Paine who could only react after it had already slid into the net. The goal was originally credited to Lee for tipping it on the way in, but it was later scored as a clean shot by Smitko.
In the turning point of the game, Potsdam found itself down two men. The Red Dragons held off Cortland, despite leading scorer Jason Wilson (13 goals in just ten games) having an open shot from the side of the net, but the puck bounced over his stick.
“Out team played a little harder, a little bit smarter,” Thomaris said of the effect of killing off those penalties. “And it took a lot out of them as well.”
Cortland’s coach, Tom Cranfield, was blunt in referring not to the power play, but the game’s first goal: “I think there was a letdown for 58 minutes of the game.”
At the end of the penalties, Lee once again raced into the zone, once again ripped off a slapshot from the left point, and once again it bounced back off the post.
The Bears took the lead in the final minute of the first period when Ryan Mattison, from right in front of the goal, converted a perfect centering pass from behind the net courtesy of Mark Stewart.
Despite being outshot 16-7 in the first period, the Bears had a 2-1 lead.
They quickly made it 3-1 early in the second. Ryan Trimble entered the zone down the middle. He originally wound up to fire a shot, but the Cortland backchecker got a piece of his stick. So, Trimble took another stride, wound up again, and this time got off a clean shot that went right in.
While Venturelli continued to come up with big saves, the penalty box seemingly installed revolving doors. All told, Potsdam was whistled for 18 penalties for 52 minutes, including two ten-minute misconducts, and Cortland committed eleven penalties for 22 minutes.
Finally, the breaks came Lee’s way. This time, the scenario when Lee raced into the zone on the left side and let go of his slapper from the point area, worked. It found nothing but net.
Cortland called time out and replaced Paine with Jason Lojewski, but it didn’t help.
In the third period, with the help of a 5-on-3 advantage, Lee found himself wide open at the center of the blueline. He slapped a waist high shot that beat the goalie.
Lee completed his natural hat trick, this time from in close. Mark Hathaway, coming out of the box, picked up the puck at center ice, and raced into the zone on the left side. He centered it to Lee, who found some space, and one timed it past a helpless Lojewski.
“Chris played real well. He skated real hard the whole game,” Thomaris said. “Tonight, he deserved what he got.”
Potsdam finished its scoring on a shorthanded breakaway by Stewart.
Cortland wrapped things up with a 5-on-3 power-play goal with two seconds left when Matt Schillace just barely knocked it over the line in a goal mouth scramble.
Early in the first period, there was a delay when referee Clyde Best needed medical attention for a cut on his face. He returned to finish the game.
Cortland drops to 6-5 overall, but still has a respectable 4-2 SUNYAC record. It doesn’t get easier, though, as they host Plattsburgh next.
Potsdam moves to 5-6 overall and 3-3 in conference. They travel to last year’s national runner-up, Oswego, for a Saturday night game.
“We have to protect our end,” Thomaris said of their upcoming game. “We can’t give them the zone because they will convert those plays that Cortland could not. We have to protect our goalie.”
Venturelli has been protecting his team all season, but against Oswego, Potsdam will need to do what Thomaris says. And Lee will need to continue putting the puck into the net instead of off the goalpost.