FREDONIA, N.Y. — It was deja vu all over again.
In a game eerily similar to the one Potsdam and Fredonia played exactly one week ago, the Blue Devils jumped out to an early lead, withstood a Potsdam comeback fueled by the power play, reversed the tide with a string of unanswered goals, and came away with a 7-2 win in the first game of the SUNYAC Play-in Round.
The Blue Devils were led by Matt Zeman, who played perhaps his best game of the year, setting up four goals and creating havoc for Potsdam defenders all night.
“That’s the best game he’s played against us in the four years I remember,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said. “He was out there flying. Hopefully, our defensemen will get a little bit of a rest and pick him up closer and check him tighter [tomorrow].”
“He was trying to use speed tonight,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said of Zeman’s game.
Also contributing was Scott Bradley and Shawn Walker who each scored a pair of goals and Rick Cazares who made 23 saves, in front of a sold out, raucous crowd.
The one difference this time was Potsdam came out skating with energy, creating plays, getting back on defense, and getting some solid goaltending from Vince Cuccaro.
“I thought the first ten minutes our guys did a really good job,” Thomaris said.
However, Fredonia still jumped out to an early lead. After offsetting penalties midway through the opening period, Fredonia scored twice during the ensuing four-on-four. Both goals were the result of Fredonia creating plays rather than taking advantage of any Potsdam lapse.
Colin Sarfeh, Zeman, and Bradley combined on some quick passing in their own zone to create a fast transition the other way eventually springing Bradley on a breakaway that was as clean a breakaway you can get. Bradley skated straight in, and didn’t waste any time wristing the puck over Vince Cuccaro’s left shoulder.
Fredonia’s second goal was reminiscent of a basketball alley-oop. Kyle Bozoian controlled the puck deep on the right side. Jeff Sylvester, on the left side, suddenly broke for the goalpost, unnoticed by the Potsdam defenders. As if the two Blue Devils communicated on a subconscious level, Bozoian simultaneously provided a crossing pass. Sylvester immediately one-timed it in stride into the near side as Cuccaro had no chance at it.
“The quick start at home is really beneficial to us,” Meredith said.
Those two quick goals seemed to take some of the wind out of Potsdam.
“All of a sudden they got to their game plan, put the puck to the net and made something happen,” Thomaris said. “They crashed it, and they got two quick goals on a four on four. We fell asleep.”
Meredith seconded the strategy: “”Just trying to keep our game pretty simple. We want to throw the puck to the net whenever we can. We’re a pretty straightforward hockey team.”
Fredonia controlled most of the play territorial the rest of the first period. It resulted in another goal late in the period.
Shawn Walker from a relatively poor angle to the right of Cuccaro shot a seemingly harmless shot that somehow snuck by the goaltender.
With Fredonia outshooting the Bears, 19-6, and holding a 3-0 lead after the first period, it once again started looking like a week earlier.
Like last week, Potsdam started a comeback thanks to their power play, the second best in the nation.
“They have a dynamite power play,” Meredith said.
“We gave ourselves a chance going on the power play,” Thomaris said.
It didn’t take long as the Bears scored just 12 seconds after their first man advantage opportunity. Adam Gebara from on the goal line on the right side banked a shot off of Rick Cazares.
A minute later, the Bears were back on the power play and a minute after that they cut the lead to 3-2. After constant pressure where Cazares was forced to make solid saves, Pat Lemay finally found the net with a shot from the left faceoff circle.
Once again, the game continued to take its cue from the pattern of a week ago as Fredonia stopped the comeback with a power play goal of their own. Cuccaro went down Hasek-like thinking he had the puck underneath him. He did not, and Neal Sheehan was the first to discover this. He pounced on the loose puck putting it over the helpless goaltender.
The Blue Devils entered the final period with a two-goal lead.
They quickly made it a three-goal lead as they scored 41 seconds into the third period. Cuccaro made the initial save on Zeman’s shot, but before he was able to cover it, Bradley powered his way in to whack the loose puck into the net for his second goal on the night.
“They just outworked us in the third period and took it away,” Thomaris said.
Potsdam had a golden opportunity to mount another comeback led by the power play when Fredonia was called for two successive penalties early in the final period. However, despite some good chances, Fredonia withstood the Bears’ attack, maintaining the three-goal lead.
Afterwards, Fredonia put the game away when Walker got his second of the night with a shot from the left faceoff circle. Adam Haberman finished it off with a power play goal from the top of the left faceoff circle in the waning minutes.
For the third game in a row, Fredonia poured a lot of shots on net, 41 in total, forcing Cuccaro to make 34 saves.
The two teams do it all over again Saturday night at Steele Arena in Fredonia at 7:00 p.m.
“Hopefully we can get the puck into the net and get a lead,” Thomaris said of game two. “And hopefully play a little closer to our net. Fifteen goals in two games is too much, obviously.”
Meanwhile, Fredonia has to continue to keep Potsdam off the power play.
“I don’t know if we can get less than that,” Meredith said of the six penalties his team tonight. “But if you take six and they go on a 33% clip, that’s two goals. Give them nine, they get three goals.”
All Fredonia needs is a tie to advance to the semifinal round. If Potsdam wins, a mini-game will be played immediately following the end of game two.