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The Fredonia State Blue Devils accomplished the unexpected Saturday — sweeping the first half of the SUNYAC schedule with a perfect 7-0 record — with a 2-1 home victory over the Potsdam State Bears. The win came despite the fact that for the second game in a row Potsdam outplayed its opponent only to fall short on the scoreboard.
“I thought Potsdam played outstanding,” acknowledged Fredonia coach Jeff Meredith. “They took it right up the middle against us, which not too many teams have been able to do.”
The key, once again, was goaltending. This time it was Will Hamele, who left early this morning from Detroit and his brother’s wedding the night before in order to make it in time for the rare 4:00 start time. He made it, and showed ill effects of neither the trip nor the wedding.
“I thought he did a great job today,” Meredith said of his senior netminder. “It’s good to have Willy back in there.”
Potsdam came out skating strong, taking the play to Fredonia, but most of the Bears’ shots in the first period were relatively easy ones for Hamele to stop.
Occasionally, Fredonia would counterattack, including a breakaway by Jeff Lumsden and a point-blank shot by Steve Greenburg after intercepting a pass. Ryan Venturelli was able to turn them all away.
The play by Potsdam kept the near capacity crowd out of it as they didn’t have much to cheer about — especially when Potsdam scored first at the 15:48 mark.
The Bears dumped the puck in deep from just across the red line, won the battle behind the net and waited for someone to get open in front. When that happened, Joel Jennings was in possession of the disk, and he fed Chris Brussa-Toi in front. Brussa-Toi one-timed the pass into the net, a play that Potsdam has effectively used this year. It gave the Bears a 1-0 lead going into intermission.
“I thought we played a great first period,” said Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris.
Potsdam came out strong in the second, but Hamele again met the challenge. Meanwhile, on the other end, Venturelli had to stop a 2-on-1 breakout, and the defense broke up another such odd-man rush.
Fredonia did manage to tie it up on one of the occasions it was able to set a play up. A cross-ice pass from the right point to the left point helped spread the defense out. The shot was taken from the blue line, and Venturelli made the save. The rebound shot by Matt Crane was subsequently saved. That rebound came out to the side of the goalie, and Christian Fletcher was able to get it past the outstretched Venturelli.
Once again Potsdam found itself in a battle due to missed opportunities.
“We got to find a way to get the puck into the net,” Thomaris said in the understatement of the night.
Was Meredith worried about entering the third period tied when his team was back on their heels most of the time? “We haven’t lost a third period in eleven straight games,” Meredith answered. “So we were pretty confident going into the last period.”
And they didn’t lose this one. As the action picked up, the checking got harder, and the ref virtually put his whistle away, the job of Hamele and Venturelli got a lot tougher.
Fredonia’s winning goal came at 12:52. Craig Florkowski shot it from the right point. Erik Hlavaty helped the puck continue on its way from the faceoff circle. His encouragement allowed the puck to sneak through the legs of the last defenseman, finding its way to Jeff Lumsden, who had his back to the net.
Lumsden simply added momentum to the puck by backhanding it while still in motion, and the redirection fooled Venturelli.
Now, Fredonia had to hold off Potsdam, no easy task.
“They played a lot of games in the last eight to nine days,” Meredith said of Potsdam. “Their conditioning must be great to play hard right up to the last buzzer.”
Some of Potsdam’s best scoring chances occurred in those final minutes. In the waning seconds, with the goalie pulled, it appeared Potsdam had the game tied. Mark Hathaway picked up a rebound in the slot area with an empty net to shoot at. He fanned on the backhander.
Surprisingly, the shots on net were low for the game, and Fredonia actually outshot Potsdam. Hamele wound up with 13 saves for the night, while Venturelli made 18 saves.
Though Jim Quilty returned to action Saturday, Potsdam still had a number of key players out with injuries, part of the reason its record has slipped to 7-6-2 overall and 2-4-1 in the SUNYAC. The Bears will have a lot of time for those players to rest and heal, something they desperately need; they are off until January 7 when they host Middlebury.
Meanwhile, Fredonia doesn’t have too much time to rest on its accomplishments, taking its 9-3-0 overall mark into a pair of home games against Neumann Friday and Saturday.