FREDONIA, N.Y. — Fredonia came out red-hot, opening up a 6-0 lead, then withstood a comeback attempt by Potsdam to win a key SUNYAC game, 8-4. The Blue Devils clinched home ice in the first round of the playoffs and maintained pace with Geneseo — which upset Oswego — remaining one point behind second and a bye, with one game left in the season.
The game appeared to be over after just one period of play as Fredonia simply crushed Potsdam, outshooting the Bears 21-5 and scoring five unanswered goals.
“It was pretty simple,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said on the fast start. “We were winning loose pucks on our forecheck. We had a lot of good energy there. We were just getting pucks to the net. Look at some of the shots we had, it was just off of hard work, getting loose pucks and getting rebounds and throwing them back to the net. I think that’s how the quick start happened.”
“They’re very hungry and have a shot at getting second place in the league,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said. “They came out hard and we didn’t. They won every battle early and won most of the battles throughout the game. They wanted it more than us.”
The first goal set the tone for the entire opening period. Ryan Trimble gave the puck away in the slot area, enabling Jim Gilbride to face the goalie alone. He placed his shot over Rob Barnhardt’s shoulder.
Thirty-one seconds later and Fredonia scored again. Potsdam’s defenders appeared to have Tom Briggs contained on the outside, but his backhander somehow found its way in.
Less than three minutes after that, Briggs scored his second of the night, five seconds after a Potsdam penalty expired. Fredonia continued to maintain control of the puck, and it came loose in front of the net. Briggs found it first, and his on-ice shot went off the post and into the net.
Once more, it took three minutes to score again, and with the period not even half over, Fredonia had a 4-0 lead. Wil Barlow received a pass at the right point. He waited patiently moving in a bit for the screen to set up. Finally, he wound up and let go a bullet of a shot that easily beat Barnhardt glove side.
At this point, Potsdam took out Barnhardt and put in Vince Cuccaro. The decision to start Barnhardt was a surprise.
“We’re down in his neck of the woods not far from his hometown,” Thomaris said. “And he had a pretty good week this week, so we thought we’ll give him a crack and see how’s he doing. Can’t fault him on the goals as we were pretty sloppy in our own end, but he couldn’t bail us out at the same time either.”
Cuccaro slowed the tide down a bit, but Fredonia did score one more time before the period was out. Once again, just after a power play, this time by one second. Shawn Walker put a rebound in after Cuccaro made a pair of kick saves, but nobody was able to clear the puck.
Early in the second period, Fredonia made it 6-0 when Zeman stole the puck from behind, turned around, and shot it past Cuccaro.
At this point, it could be expected that many felt the game would just continue to be a rout and it was just a matter of how bad the score would get.
However, Fredonia did the one thing you never do against Potsdam — start sending players to the penalty box. Next thing anyone knew, Potsdam scored four power play goals, and suddenly the score was 6-4.
“They left the door open for a little bit of a crack,” Thomaris said. “We got a pretty good power play even though T.J. [Sakaluk] was out early with an injury. We put something on the net and got some goals and got ourselves back into it.”
Meredith knew exactly why Potsdam mounted the comeback: “Us taking penalties. That’s the best team in our league on the power play. You just can’t be shorthanded against them. We were our own worse enemy tonight. That’s there game. Look how many five-on-five goals they’ve gotten in their last five games then look at how many power play goals they’ve got. We hurt ourselves by being in the box.”
Potsdam went four for nine on the power play. The first power play goal came midway through the second period when Ryan McCarthy one-timed a pass from the slot area.
The third period started with a two-man advantage for the Bears, and they capitalized by scoring at 0:41 and 1:20. Adam Gebara got the first with a bad angle shot that bounced off a defensemen and into the net. McCarthy got the second one after good puck control by Potsdam.
Fredonia continued a procession to the penalty box, allowing Potsdam to score again five minutes into the period when Gebara got his second of the night.
At this point Fredonia called a timeout. Though the Blue Devils did get back to their game, McCarthy nearly continued the amazing comeback with a breakaway. However, his shot went wide, but he did draw a penalty.
It didn’t last long as Potsdam committed their own penalty, and now Fredonia got back to their game and expanded the lead with a four-on-four goal. After an initial shot by Joe Muli was kicked aside by Cuccaro, the puck came out in front, but the defenseman never saw it. This allowed Zeman to fire a slapper past Cuccaro.
Barlow finished the game off with Fredonia’s only power play goal. Kraig Kuzma’s shot was saved, but Barlow lifted the rebound over a downed goalie.
Fredonia (13-8-3) now has a shot at second place if they can beat Plattsburgh Saturday night (and Geneseo losses to Cortland). However, they could also fall to third place if they lose to the Cardinals.
“Plattsburgh is a good hard working team,” Meredith said. “Everybody is trying to get their game in order in the last part of the season. I don’t care what anybody around the league is doing. It’s all about us. How we play, and how we do. So, forget about anyone else. Let’s go 1-0 on Saturday and go from there.”
Meanwhile, Potsdam (7-12-4) is guaranteed to travel for the first round of the playoffs. It just depends where, and some of that will be decided in their game at Buffalo State.