CORTLAND, N.Y. — If Matt Meacham gets involved in a goaltending battle, it’s a safe bet that he is the one to lead his Cortland Red Dragons to victory.
That was not the case this time; the goalie few would bet on to beat Meacham in a goaltending battle, Vince Cuccaro, turned away 24 shots to lead the Potsdam Bears to a 3-1 victory at Cortland. Meacham made 30 saves.
“He’s really come to the forefront when we needed him,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said. “He’s played really solid. I think our team has played better in front of him to help him as well, but he has given us some great opportunities now to keep the puck out of our net and give us the chance to go down and score.”
Offensively, T.J. Sakaluk was the star, scoring the first two Bears goals and getting an assist on the clincher.
The first period started out slowly as the refs called a tight game. The players quickly got the message, and proceeded to play a relatively nonphysical contest. This opened the ice up for skating and passing. And forced the goalies to come up with some big saves.
Luckily for both, each team did a very good job of not allowing any follow-on shots. All the goaltenders had to do was make the initial save. Meacham made more of those saves as Potsdam outshot Cortland in the first period, 14-7. However, play was even.
After a scoreless first period, Potsdam quickly got on the board in the second period.
“We got the goal right off the bat which really helped break the ice,” Thomaris said.
The goal came 38 seconds into the period on a beautiful move by Sakaluk. Potsdam’s Ryan McCarthy quickly moved the puck out of his zone. At center ice, he led Sakaluk with a pass who’s burst of speed beat the defensemen, allowing him to go into the zone alone.
He faked left, cut right, and backhanded the puck into the high corner on the near side. Meacham didn’t have a chance.
“The goal was a beauty,” Thomaris said. “When he was going in on Meacham, shades of last year at the end of the game when he had the backhand goal right from the goalmouth. But when he goes in, it’s pretty much a done deal; I don’t care who’s in the net.”
Potsdam took control of the period after the goal, and maintained possession in the Red Dragons zone for long periods of time.
“I thought our kids played really solid [in the second period],” Thomaris said. “The penalties were going in our favor a little bit. I thought we controlled the play and kept the puck in their zone and had more chances and didn’t capitalize on them.”
Because they didn’t capitalize on them, partly thanks to some outstanding Meacham saves, the Bears only led 1-0 going into the third period.
“Matty Meacham again played really solid in net for them,” Thomaris said.
Once again, Potsdam scored a quick goal to start a period. This time, it took 1:43 for Sakaluk to make it 2-0. It was not as pretty as the first goal. Ryan Trimble fired a shot from the left point that was way wide on the near side. However, the puck bounced off the backboards and out in front of the net on the other side.
Standing there was Sakaluk, who knocked it in on the near side.
“I thought he played really solid, in the offensive end especially,” Thomaris said.
Cortland started putting some pressure on the Potsdam net, trying to get back into the game. However, Cuccaro made one solid safe after another, and his defense helped clear the puck after the initial stop.
What Cuccaro couldn’t stop was when the defense broke down at center ice, allowing Matt Schillace to go in with a clean breakaway while shorthanded.
Schillace went to his left, and Cuccaro went down sprawling his arm out, enabling Schillace to easily backhand it over the arm.
This came midway through the final period, and Cuccaro was called upon to make some key saves to preserve the lead.
Potsdam didn’t back down offensively, however, and Pat Lemay scored the backbreaker for Cortland. After some pressure down low, Lemay shoved the loose puck through Meacham’s five-hole.
Potsdam has now gotten eight points in their last four conference games, and suddenly find themselves going from fighting for a playoff position to fourth place thanks to Plattsburgh losing tonight to Oswego, 7-6.
“Vinny is going to be the key for us right down the stretch,” Thomaris said. “We’ve won four in a row in the league based on his performance.”
The Bears will be going for five in a row against Oswego Saturday night in the last regular season game at the Romney Field House.