College Hockey:
Unlikely Hero Thomas Propels Oswego Into SUNYAC Finals

— Big players make big plays in big games, especially the playoffs. Just don’t tell that to Oswego fourth-liner Tim Thomas. His hat trick led the Lakers to an 8-2 victory over Potsdam, sweeping the Bears two games to none in the SUNYAC semifinals.

“I challenged the seniors. Obviously, Timmy wasn’t the guy I had in mind,” Oswego coach Ed Gosek admitted. “Three goals. What can you say? The kid paid his dues. He’s been in and out of the lineup, and doesn’t complain. He accepts his role on the team. If there is justice in this world, it paid Timmy Thomas back tonight for his dedication to this program.”

“Once I got my confidence up, things just fell for me,” Thomas said. “I was pretty happy with that.”

Thomas’ first goal gave Oswego a 2-1 lead early in the second period. A Potsdam error at center ice enabled Thomas to go in on a breakaway. Thomas didn’t do anything fancy, but let go a wrist shot, beating Venturelli waist high.

That came shortly after Oswego thought it had the go-ahead goal early in the second period, but a blistering shot that beat Venturelli smacked off the goalpost.

Thomas scored another important goal that gave the Lakers a key two-goal lead, also in the second. He carried the puck in on a clean 2-on-1 break and took the shot, which Venturelli saved. However, as Venturelli fell backwards, he dropped the puck, which trickled across the goal line.

Prior to each Thomas goal were two power-play tallies by Mike Lukajic on similar plays to the first goal the night before, as the power play picked up where it left off.

Lukajic tied the game late in the first on his first goal. Ryan Woodward, from low on the right side, made the crossing pass to him, and Lukajic one-timed it into the unguarded near side before Venturelli could cover.

The second power-play goal gave the Lakers a 3-1 lead. Their usual set play converted again. Lukajic scored on the unguarded near side. The only difference is he took the shot from the faceoff circle instead of down low. Don Patrick made the cross ice pass.

After the two goals each by Lukajic and Thomas, Oswego had the game to itself.

Potsdam nearly struck first at the start of the game on a number of good scoring opportunities during its first power play, called 30 seconds into the game. As it turned out, Potsdam struck first shortly after the power play expired.

With the puck in the crease, both teams had trouble getting a stick on it. Mark Hathaway took a shot, but it was stopped just short of the goal line. An attempted clear bounced off an Oswego defender’s skate, back towards the line. Myles Palliser finally nudged the puck into the net.

After Oswego took the 2-1 lead, Potsdam tied the game on the power play. After a hard shot went wide bouncing off the backboards, it wound up in front on the stick of Palliser, who smacked it past Tyson Gajda for his second on the night.

Oswego fought off a number of Potsdam power plays, though credit goes to Gajda with superb saves when his penalty killers let him down. At one point, Potsdam had a two-man advantage when Oswego led 3-2.

“After that kill I think is when the team really pulled together,” Gosek said. “It reminded me of last Friday with the Cortland game when we had the five minute penalty in the last six minutes to go, when guys really stepped it up and dove for loose pucks.”

“I thought Tyson did a real nice job,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said.

Oswego extended the 4-2 lead on yet another power-play goal. This time, it was a superb solo effort by Patrick. He skated the puck seemingly all over the ice surface before heading into the zone down the left side. He let go of the shot from the faceoff circle, beating Venturelli through the five hole.

Thomas completed his hat trick, making it 6-2. Left alone in the slot area, he easily converted the pass from Sean Kotary.

Thomaris, in an attempt to repeat the miracle comeback of 2000, pulled his goalie. It did not work as Rob Smith scored two empty-net goals.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t feel comfortable,” Gosek, who was an assistant coach for Oswego during that wild series in 2000, said of the Potsdam tactic.

Potsdam put the goalie back in, but this time senior Matt O’Connor stood between the pipes.

Thomaris said of Venturelli, “He had a terrific run from freshman year on. He’s been a mainstay for four solid years here and that’s hard to do. He gave us a lot of chances to win games and won games singlehandedly.”

Potsdam is also losing the SUNYAC Player of the Year, Chris Lee. “He’s been a great player for Potsdam,” Thomaris said. “When he plays, it’s hard to find anyone better out on the ice over the years.”

Potsdam finished the season 11-14-2. Oswego, currently 19-7-3, continues to play hockey and will meet Plattsburgh in a repeat of last year’s SUNYAC finals, this time in Stafford Arena.

“We enjoy going to Plattsburgh,” Gosek said. “It’s a great atmosphere. It’s what college hockey is all about.”

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