GENESEO, N.Y. — “Awesome, unbelievable, and great.”
That was how Geneseo’s coach Jason Lammers described the game winning goal by Mitch Stephens 39 seconds into overtime to defeat Potsdam, 4-3, in a SUNYAC conference game.
All week the focus has been on the Plattsburgh at Geneseo game on Saturday night. Somebody forget to tell that to Geneseo and Potsdam. In a game that saw what everybody expected the following night, the Ice Knights and Bears played a hard fought contest with playoff intensity, great goaltending, and a highlight reel overtime game winner.
All night, Geneseo mostly shot low. All night, Vince Cuccaro made one great save after another, more than happy to stop the puck low. Stephens had enough of that, and after he blew by one defender and faked out Warren Sly on his patented outside, inside move that still has Sly wondering what happened, he was alone on Cuccaro. As Cuccaro went down, Stephens shot high.
“I don’t know if he was thinking that,” Lammers said of Stephens shooting high. “Mitch is such a creative player that whenever he gets the chance and sees the hole, he is a guy that can hit that hole. He saw it, obviously, and buried it.”
Just before that goal, Potsdam had an excellent chance at leaving the ice winners.
“On the winning goal, TJ Sakaluk had a shot from the slot and it just slid by and it bounced out high enough where they had the two on two rush coming back,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris explained. “And Stephens made a great play on our D and scored the goal.”
The teams were tied after each period of regulation play. Geneseo got on the board first halfway through the first period on a two-man advantage power play. It was a classic play when up by two men — round the horn with quick one-time passing.
Finally, Stephens found Michel Bond down low off to the right side of the goaltender. Bond easily one timed it into the unguarded portion of the near side as Cuccaro could not keep up with all the quick passing.
The Bears tied it up in the last minute of the period. A loose puck sat in front of the net for what seemed like an eternity. Numerous jabs were made to knock it in before Ryan McCarthy finally found the means to shove it in before Jeff Pasemko could cover it up.
Perhaps the turning point of the game occurred at the start of the second period. Potsdam had a two-man advantage for about a minute and a half. Despite controlling play for most of that time, they were unable to convert. The Bears fired numerous shots at net, but very few of them were actually on net, as they appeared to be trying to pinpoint the shots for the corners of the net.
“We had a great opportunity there with some great shooters in T.J. Sakaluk and Pat Lemay,” Thomaris said. “I thought we had about seven or eight very good chances that missed the net.”
Potsdam did wind up taking a 2-1 lead a few minutes later when Adam Gebara, receiving a centering pass from Mike Taylor, danced around Pasemko and shot it over an outstretched leg.
Stephens tied it on the power play when he was allowed to shoot from the blue line through traffic, and it fooled Cuccaro.
Potsdam retook the lead shortly afterwards on a Sakaluk goal. Some sloppy defensive work by Geneseo allowed Potsdam to keep the puck in the zone. Lance Smith’s pass across the net was deflected in.
That was the last time Potsdam led as the Ice Knights needed about four minutes to tie it up. Cuccaro dove out to grab the puck and thought he had it. However, Ram Sidhu came in to scoop it up and easily fired it into the open net.
Neither team scored in the third period, but they certainly tried. At times, Geneseo pounded the Bears’ net, Cuccaro came up with one great save after another. Some were by a lighting quick glove, others were by a quick kick, and still others were by Hasek-like sprawls.
“I felt we did very, very well in the third period,” Lammers said despite not getting a goal.
Meanwhile, despite the official scorecard indicating just one shot by Potsdam in the third period, they had moments where they controlled the puck in the Geneseo zone for long periods of time. However, like the power play in the second period, they constantly missed the net on their shots.
Into overtime it went. How was Geneseo handling the frustration of not being able to get one by Cuccaro?
“That’s something that we focus on, to not get rattled and to just continue to work hard each shift,” Lammers said. “If we’re going to be successful, then you have to win the one-goal games.”
Stephens certainly didn’t get rattled. And Geneseo was successful.
After an emotional game, both teams have to turn it around for games the next day. Geneseo has to face Plattsburgh in a rematch of last year’s championship final.
“It’s a carryover of the third period,” Lammers said of what his team needs to continue. “We have to carry it into tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Potsdam has a short turnaround with a 3:00 game at Brockport, and Thomaris doesn’t know who will play in goal despite the effort by Cuccaro.
“He’s only been with us since Wednesday because of his injury,” he said of Cuccaro. “So he’s only skated two days with full gear, full contact. He played well. We’re just not sure of his stamina.”
Then, Thomaris added the need for his team to win one: “We’re struggling at this point in time making some good things happen. This is still a pretty good squad. This is the time to start picking up some points. We have to go out and play hard and smart, and we’ll be all right.”