BROCKPORT, N.Y. — The Potsdam Bears left the North Country 20 minutes late and arrived in Brockport 20 minutes late. They then proceeded to play hockey 39 minutes late.
However, once they did start playing hockey for the last 21 minutes of Friday night’s game, they scored five unanswered goals for a 5-3 victory over the Golden Eagles.
“They’re looking at getting out of the basement and putting us there,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said of Brockport, which was one point behind the Bears for last place before the game. “They came out with a lot of life. On our part, I don’t think we gave them much respect.”
It took just 1:05 for Brockport to show that life. AJ Maio beat a slow-moving defense and Rob Barnhardt for the early 1-0 lead. In fact, the Bears appeared lackadaisical for most of the first period.
When Potsdam did skate hard, it came at a cost. Brockport’s second goal late in the period bounced off a Potsdam player rushing towards his own net to defend. Ryan Shannon was credited with the unassisted power-play goal since it was his shot that Barnhardt saved only for it to bounce off the Potsdam defender and into the net.
The Bears played better in the second period, but Brockport hung in and eventually extended the lead to 3-0 with a minute and a half left.
The goal was a result of a bad defensive play by Potsdam. As a power play was winding down, Pat LeMay from the right point made a no-look pass across the blueline. Brian Bauman intercepted it and raced down the ice on a breakaway. He slipped it between the legs of Barnhardt just after the penalty expired.
With Potsdam squandering a power-play chance to cut the lead to 2-1 and instead falling behind 3-0, the game should have been locked up for Brockport.
However, the turning point of the contest soon followed.
“The penalty at the end of the second period,” Brockport coach Brian Dickinson explained. “You score a goal to go up 3-0 with a minute and a half left in the second period. We got to buckle down and play great hockey for a minute and a half. It gave them a chance to go in with the momentum.”
That penalty with 50 seconds remaining in the second period was an obstruction-interference call against Shannon. Twenty-five seconds later, T.J. Sakaluk received a pass from Ryan McCarthy in front of the net. Greg Van’t Hof over committed to a potential McCarthy shot, and Sakaluk had an open net to shoot at and to score perhaps the easiest goal of his career.
“It put us on our heels a little bit,” Dickinson said. “And unfortunately we played like freshmen in the third period.”
That third period saw Potsdam score four times for the win.
“They’re a young team,” Thomaris said. “We wanted to go out and get a good third period and say, hey, they haven’t been in that position very often and maybe they don’t know how to keep the lead. Fortunately for us that is what happened. We turned it up a little bit. When they keep icing the puck and the puck is in their end, it will catch up to them sooner or later.”
The key goal was the first one when McCarthy, despite being hauled down and drawing a delayed penalty, still somehow managed to get a shot off and beat Van’t Hof.
“Those are the goals he is able to do,” Thomaris said of McCarthy’s gutsy effort. “And when he’s doing that, it really pumps the rest of the team up.”
Midway through the final period, LeMay made up for his earlier mistake, and tied the game up completing a three-on-one with a waist-high shot before the goalie could come across the goal mouth.
A few minutes later, Sakaluk had the game winner.
“Even when guys are checking him he really has the presence of mind to move the puck to the side and throw it up top and that was the backhander goal that he got,” Thomaris said of the game winner. “He’s not the fastest guy, but when we get the puck to him, he can dish it to the right guy and he can put them home, too.”
The Bears had to fight off a late penalty, including a partial 6-on-4 when Brockport pulled the goalie, to secure the win.
Sakaluk finished the game with two goals and an assist, as did McCarthy, who added an empty-netter.
Barnhardt made 26 saves while Van’t Hof stopped 35 shots.
Brockport (0-5-1, 4-8-1) now has to face Plattsburgh Saturday night.
“If there was ever a chance to get points from these two teams, this was the year,” Dickinson said. “Plattsburgh is struggling. If we play a full 60 minutes and not have a lapse at the wrong time [we have a chance].”
Potsdam gained two valuable points with its conference record now at 2-5 (4-8-0 overall) heading into a Saturday contest against Geneseo.
“Geneseo is a good, strong team,” Thomaris said. “Brett Walker has made them a better team since he has come back. They can take some more chances. They’re going to shoot the puck and they’ve got very good speed, so we have to be at the top of our game or we are going to be at the short end of the stick badly. We have to play a lot smarter, a lot harder.”
And they can’t be late.