FREDONIA, N.Y. — The second game of the SUNYAC Play-In round between Fredonia and Potsdam took on a different pattern, but the end result was the same. Fredonia defeated Potsdam, 5-3, to advance to the semifinal round at Geneseo.
The Bears took the initial lead, but a strong second period by Fredonia coupled with a strong power play turned the tide in the Blue Devils favor as five different players scored.
“We got some nice balance in our lines,” Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith said. “We got some guys who are scoring.”
The first period saw Potsdam get three power play opportunities, and true to their pace of scoring once on every three, the Bears notched one goal. It came on their second power play with three minutes left in the period.
From his own zone, Adam Gebara fed Ryan McCarthy who rushed down the ice on the right side for a three-on-two breakout. When he got to the faceoff circle, he fed Greg Lee with a cross ice pass through the slot area. Lee quickly one-timed it past Rick Cazares on the near side, waist high.
Potsdam finally got what they wanted against Fredonia — the lead.
“Key was to not give up the second goal and to try to stay out of the box,” Meredith said about giving up the first goal. “We hurt ourselves with the penalties in the first period.”
Both teams had a few good opportunities to score, but both goalies were equal to the task. More importantly, both goalies did a good job of not allowing rebounds in that period, thus preventing a good chance from becoming a great chance.
Fredonia tied the game and took the lead on power play goals of their own in the early minutes of the middle stanza. Fredonia wound up going three for seven with the man advantage.
“I think we just generated opportunities getting pucks to the net,” Meredith said. “A little different power play than Potsdam’s power play where it’s tic-tac-toe and finding the guy at the backdoor. Ours is get the puck to the net.”
Wil Barlow found the net after a scramble in front that was initiated when Cuccaro made the initial save on a Tom Briggs shot, but nobody was able to clear the rebound away.
Fredonia took the lead when Adam Haberman, standing in the slot area with his back to the goal, redirected an on-ice shot by Steve Albert.
The Blue Devils started to take control of the game before the midway point when Joe Muli made it 3-1. Again, after Cuccaro made the initial save, the puck remained loose in the crease. Muli picked up the stray puck, and swept it around the prone goalie.
“They worked really hard,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said of the comeback. “They just outworked us, got on the power play and threw the puck at our net. We weren’t tying up the sticks out front and they were just tipping them in and they took the lead. We were trying to get out of the first five minutes of the second period and we didn’t do that.”
Potsdam put a halt to the Blue Devils’ scoring binge with a rare even strength goal, their only one against Fredonia in the last three games. Gebara found the puck on his stick to the left of the goal after a shot by Potsdam was redirected wide. Gebara had no problem putting it into the unguarded near side as Cazares was moving the other way for the initial shot.
The period ended with an interesting, and dangerous, piece of strategy by Potsdam. With the Bears on the power play and the faceoff deep in Fredonia’s zone, Potsdam pulled Cuccaro for an extra attacker with 6.9 seconds left. With that much time left and Fredonia having no fear of icing the puck, Thomaris was taking a big risk. Potsdam ended up controlling the faceoff and getting a good shot off, preventing Fredonia any opportunity of capitalizing on this move.
“Six guys against their four, hopefully we can battle and not let anyone get the loose puck,” Thomaris said. “Unless they won it real clean, it wasn’t going to go.”
Both teams knew the first goal in the third period was going to be key. It was Fredonia that got it on the power play early in the period. Kraig Kuzma from the top of the right faceoff circle, used Nik Bibic perfectly as a screen, and fired the puck through the legs of a slow reacting Cuccaro.
“He played pretty solid for us,” Thomaris said of Cuccaro who made 35 saves. “We just didn’t do a real good job of blocking shots.”
Fredonia maintained their style of play as Potsdam desperately attempted to get back into the game. Fredonia did exactly what they did not want to do late in the game — take a penalty. Kuzma was whistled for kneeing with five minutes to go.
It took Potsdam 22 seconds to pull within one on one of those tic-tac-toe find the player at the backdoor plays. McCarthy was the recipient of that play, as he stood alone by the left post. He easily put the puck into the empty side of the net.
Potsdam then threw everything at the net trying to tie the game. They pulled their goalie with about a minute left to go, but weren’t able to crack the Fredonia defense. Instead, Matt Zeman scored an empty net goal with 21 seconds left to seal the victory.
After the final whistle, it nearly turned ugly as some Potsdam players displaying a lack of sportsmanship started to go after a few Fredonia players. The referees were very aggressive in ensuring nothing erupted and after things settled down, they told the players to go straight to their locker room without the traditional postgame handshake.
Cazares wound up with 23 saves for the win, some of them spectacular at key moments of the game.
“Ricky did a dynamite job,” Meredith said.
Potsdam’s season ends with an overall record of 7-15-4. They will lose four seniors from this year’s squad.
Fredonia, now at 16-8-3, continues to play hockey. They will face the Ice Knights at Geneseo next weekend for a two-game semifinal series.