BUFFALO, N.Y. — Potsdam’s power play, one of the best in the country last year, picked up where it left off, as the Bears scored the first two goals with a man advantage and desperately held on in the third period to defeat host Buffalo State, 3-2. All three Potsdam goals were scored by freshmen. It was the Bears first win of the season after they opened up 0-4 and were outscored 22-7.
“Early going I thought our guys were moving it well on the power play,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said. “It was better, and we needed it to be better, too. Having McCarthy back out helps a lot.”
Ryan McCarthy missed most of the first four games with an injury, and his presence on the power play helped Potsdam control the puck. It also helped when McCarthy assisted on the second power play goal as well as the even strength goal.
What also helped the Bears was the referees who right from the get go were calling the game to the letter of the stricter obstruction and interference rules. Despite Potsdam’s numerous penalties early in the season, the tight whistles hurt Buffalo State more. The Bengals were called for eleven minor penalties while Potsdam was only sent to the box six times (not including an unsportsmanlike call after the game was over).
“We’ve had an awful lot of experience with penalties and stick calls all year long,” Thomaris said. “I thought our guys finally did a pretty good job keeping their sticks to themselves. It’s nice to see them [Buffalo State] get penalties instead of us for a change.”
“It’s been something we’ve had to work on ever since the puck dropped this year,” Buffalo State coach Nick Carriere said. “We’ve been in the box all the time. It’s only so much I can say and do. It comes down to the habits of a bunch of guys who played junior hockey with different rules.”
After Potsdam failed to convert on their first three power plays despite constant pressure, including a breakaway by Jeff Zatorski that was stopped with a glove save, they finally lit the lamp on the fourth opportunity at 14:21. Connor Treacy fired a hard shot from the left faceoff circle that somehow found its way through the legs of Sean Sheehan, despite the goalie getting a good piece of the puck.
Potsdam scored on their next power play at 17:40. McCarthy took a shot from the right faceoff circle that Sheehan saved, but he left a fat rebound on his right side with a wide open net. At first, nobody saw the puck, but then Luke Beck raced towards it and roofed it into the empty net.
The Bears extended the lead to 3-0 early in the second period. Defenseman Steve Cornelissen fired a shot from the right point that sailed over the shoulder of Sheehan. It may have been deflected by a defender on route. At this point, Carriere pulled Sheehan and replaced him with freshman Kyle Gunn-Taylor.
“Sean appeared to be fighting the puck early on,” explained Carriere. “The first two goals were a little shaky from what we saw. I didn’t have a good feeling with how things were going there.”
After Buffalo State killed off two more power plays (the first caused when McCarthy was hauled down while on a breakaway), the Bengals got on the scoreboard. Jason Hill took a strange deflection off the side boards and went in alone down the right side. He fired the puck to the far side easily beating Rob Barnhardt.
Potsdam has not had consistent goaltending lately, but Barnhardt got the start and continued to play well after a strong game against Hobart. However, he had to come out after the second period due to an injury, and Vince Cuccaro came in.
“We were playing pretty good,” Thomaris said. “We were just hoping to finish off 20 minutes. He [Cuccaro] gave us a good solid effort. They were trying to put the puck on the net and we knew that, and he was keeping an eye on it and it was hitting him, so he was in good position. That’s a good sign.”
The Bengals came out strong in the third period, swarming the Potsdam zone and pouring the pressure on Cuccaro. They fired 15 of their 33 shots in the third period.
“We started to play a brand of hockey that we practice and we watch on video and we strive towards,” Carriere said of the third period turnaround. “We got the puck down low; we didn’t give it away; we used our speed; we changed sides in their zone and made their defensemen work and skate with us, protect it against the wall, and good things happen. That’s what we try to do consistently, and that wasn’t there the first and second periods.”
The Bengals cut the lead to one with under five minutes to go. Mike Ansell sent a soft, low shot from the left point through a screen that Cuccaro moved too late on.
Increased pressure caused the Bears to take a cross-checking penalty with less than four minutes to go and then Buffalo State pulled their goalie for the last minute. However, despite some heart stopping moments, Potsdam’s defense and Cuccaro turned Buffalo State away.
Barnhardt got the win with 17 saves, though if there was a save in hockey, Cuccaro would have registered one with 14 saves. Sheehan took the loss with 13 saves while Gunn-Taylor stopped 12 shots.
It was an important win for Potsdam, and not just because it was their first of the year. “This is a team, Buff. State, that we are fighting for playoff positions,” Thomaris said.
Potsdam is now 1-4 overall and 1-1 in the SUNYAC. They travel to Fredonia for another conference match up Saturday evening.
Buffalo State lost their first conference game and fell to 1-4 overall. They remain at home to face Plattsburgh.