ELMIRA, N.Y. — Elmira fans are used to cheering for Glenn Thomaris. He is the winningest coach in Soaring Eagles history, with a 14-year record of 271-122-14. He led Elmira to five ECAC West championships, seven NCAA appearances, three times to the NCAA semifinals, and once to the national title game.
Except this time it was different. For the first time in the Murray Athletic Center, Thomaris was standing behind the visitor’s bench as the coach for Potsdam State.
And when it was finally over, the home crowd was cheering an Elmira 9-7 victory — and everyone was catching their breath. So wild was the third period that all else was forgotten, including Thomaris’ return and the excitement of a penalty shot in the second.
At the outset, though, the Elmira fans gave Thomaris the loudest and longest ovation during pregame introductions.
“Obviously, an emotional night to be around the area,” Thomaris said of the reception. “People in Elmira have been very supportive and very good over the years. We’ve given them a lot of thrills and visa-versa. At Elmira, we’re rewarded very well by having great fans here. Very nice to come back and see that and hear that, and I’m very proud for that fact.”
“I was one of the guys clapping,” Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski said of the moment. “Our guys were banging their sticks. Our fans were ready for him to come back. We’ve been thinking about this game for a long time. He deserved all the credit in the world. He’s the one who put Elmira college hockey on the map. I am just very, very fortunate to follow in his footsteps.”
However, by the end of the game, hardly anyone even remembered that emotional moment, because they witnessed one of the wildest third periods ever. Even a veteran would be hard-pressed to come up with something like that from his memory banks.
“That’s an awful lot of goals and change of momentum,” Thomaris said of the third period. “I don’t know if I’ve seen one quite like that.”
“I don’t know what to say about that third period. I was pretty confused about the whole night.” Ceglarski said.
“I’ve never been in a third period like that before. That was crazy,” Elmira’s Craig MacDonald said.
The third period saw 11 goals, eight for Elmira. It saw a three-goal and two-goal lead by Potsdam disappear. The combined power plays for both teams went 6 for 7 in that final period after going 1 for 9 in the first two periods. It saw the winning goalie have a .400 save percentage in the third.
The scene was set in the first two periods when Potsdam took a 4-1 lead thanks, once again, to superb goaltending by Ryan Venturelli. This included stopping a penalty shot early in the second period by Elmira’s second leading scorer, Justin Seibold. Seibold deked right, went left, but Venturelli stayed with him, stuffing the shot with his outstretched right leg.
At that point, Potsdam had a 3-1 lead thanks to an earlier second period shorthanded goal by Mike Smitko on a 3-on-1 breakout that nicked the post on the way into the upper corner of the net.
That was built on a 2-1 first period lead where Myles Palliser scored first, followed by MacDonald’s tying goal, which was quickly followed by Mark Stewart giving the Bears the lead.
Potsdam took the 4-1 lead on a power-play goal with seven seconds left in the middle stanza when Palliser found himself in front of the net after some nice, crisp passing by the Bears, and put it behind the out of position Greg Fargo.
With strong penalty killing, good passing, and a stone wall for a goaltender that was thwarting a strong Elmira offense, not to mention registering the all important three-goal lead with just seconds left in the period, any reasonable person at this point would have assumed that Potsdam had the game under control.
The Elmira players didn’t. “We knew we had an offensive minded and talented team,” Ceglarski said. “Our guys in the locker room after the second period were as positive as I’ve seen our guys all year long.”
Craig MacDonald got things started early at 1:06 with a power-play goal. A little more than four minutes later, Darcy Pettie scored to cut the lead to one.
After a slew of penalties, Elmira was on the power play again, and Pettie again got the tally unassisted when a Potsdam clearing pass hit a defenseman’s skate, leaving the puck just in front of the goal line for the easy tap in. Just like that, the game was tied.
And just like that, Potsdam came roaring back. Elmira’s Andrew Hawke was called for a double minor. Potsdam wasted no time in scoring two power-play goals on nearly identical plays. Each time, the Bears made nice clean passes that left a man open on the right side of the net. Each time, the player did not disappoint, as he one-timed it past Fargo. The first was scored by Palliser for the hat trick, the second by Ryan McCarthy.
In a span of only 1:25, Elmira went from tying the game at four to falling behind 6-4.
But wait. Just nine seconds after Potsdam apparently regained control of the game, Elmira made it 6-5, with MacDonald completing a hat trick. The three goals on the night doubled his season’s goal production.
The game actually settled down … for a whole four minutes. Then the excitement cranked up again.
Rick Lynch tied the game on a shot from the left point that Venturelli never saw through the screen. Two minutes later, Elmira took the lead for the first time in the game when Mark Mazzetti backhanded it from in close over the outstretched leg of Venturelli.
That lead lasted a whole 31 seconds. Phil Aubry, left alone in front of the net, shot it past Fargo.
At this point, a tie probably would have been poetic justice. Instead, Potsdam put themselves in a huge hole when Vilis Abele was called for hooking followed shortly by Scott Craig getting whistled for an interference call. This was too much for Potsdam to overcome with an Elmira team that just wasn’t letting up.
Chris Mann scored at 18:00 by shooting it over a sliding player for the 5×3 goal. Pierre Rivard clinched it with another power-play goal at 18:56.
When the ice chips finally settled, Elmira got themselves back to .500 at 7-7-2. Elmira hosts Geneseo on the 17th.
Potsdam, hoping to get themselves to .500, dropped to 6-8-1. The Bears host Manhattanville twice this weekend.
The game resembled a pickup game when you were kids. When you were being called in for dinner, everyone declared the next goal wins. Or as Ceglarski put it, “The last person with the puck wins.”