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In a typical Potsdam-Oswego playoff game, the Great Lakers eked out a 4-3 victory in the first game of the SUNYAC semifinals in a hard fought, hard hitting, highly emotional contest. So much about the game was close — both teams had seven power play opportunities, both teams took advantage of one of them, and the shots were 29-28 in favor of Potsdam.
One area that was not identical was an Oswego shorthanded breakaway goal midway through the contest that proved to be the key moment.
That moment came after Potsdam tied the game at two apiece on a Dave Weagle power-play goal 15 seconds into the second period. Weagle gained control of the puck at the right face off circle after Potsdam won the face off and moved it into Oswego’s zone. Weagle let go of a high slapshot, that appeared to get a piece of a body in front. The puck ricocheted off the upper inside corner of the goalpost as Tyson Gajda reacted late.
With the Bears gaining some momentum as the period went on, they found themselves on another power play. However, this time Weagle went from hero to goat when he lost the puck skating out of his own zone.
Jean-Simon Richard stripped it from Weagle’s stick and went in on such a clean breakaway, it was a virtual penalty shot, he had so much time to do what he wanted. Richard deked Ryan Venturelli who made the first move, then Richard cut to his right and put it past Venturelli.
“No doubt, that was a big goal,” Oswego coach George Roll said.
The intensity of the game continued to rise and the referees, who were allowing a lot of clutching and grabbing to go on, continued to let the teams play. This was to Potsdam’s advantage, as they were able to slow the faster, more powerful Oswego skaters.
It also allowed the Bears to maintain their game plan, which Roll acknowledged was working. “They clogged the middle of the rink up,” Roll said. “And we kept going up the middle.”
That 3-2 Oswego lead would hold up all the way till the 14:45 mark of the third period when Oswego appeared to put the game away. Mike Lukajic skated down the right side with a partial two on one break. The defensemen played the pass, allowing their goalie to play the shot.
However, it seemed that Venturelli also played the shot, and left a gaping hole on his right side. All Lukajic needed to do was aim the puck at the opening, which he did, and it easily beat Venturelli. For a goalie who is usually very good at cutting down the angle when given the time, it was a bad goal for Venturelli to let up.
Oswego didn’t get much time to celebrate the seemingly clinching goal because 18 seconds later, the Bears came right back to score. After an Oswego turnover deep in their zone, Gajda tried to poke check the puck away, but Corey McAllister picked it up, and skated around Gajda to put it in the net.
Potsdam then self-destructed down the stretch when they needed to get the tying goal. First, Mark Stewart was called for a tripping penalty with 3:14 left that the Potsdam bench was upset about thinking it was more of a dive. The Bears killed that penalty off, but quickly followed it with an even greater discretion.
Brett Barrer, away from the play but within sight of a linesman, speared an Oswego player. Barrer was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct. The penalty was initially announced as a game disqualification, but the final boxscore lists a game misconduct. If the former is indeed correct, Barrer will miss the second game.
With just 1:01 left in the game, the Bears had no choice but to pull Venturelli to try and tie the game up. Potsdam never really got a good opportunity to get the equalizer.
The first period saw Potsdam score first on a Phil Aubry goal. The Oswego defense were slow to react to a rebound left by Gajda who tried to clear it away while on his stomach. Aubry scooped the puck up, skated towards the side of the net, and then flipped if over the sprawled goaltender.
Oswego came with two straight goals late in the period. Jocelyn DuBord one timed a centering pass from Don Patrick while on the power play. Though Potsdam did a very good job of slowing down Oswego, whenever the Lakers did have room, they used their quickness to their advantage.
“When they had room,” Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris said, “they were very good with the quick one two passes.”
Oswego took the lead into the first intermission when Gary Bowman, while standing at the side of the post, took a pass from behind the net. Bowman stuffed it under Venturelli using his backhand.
Gajda wound up with 26 saves, with most of the key ones coming while his team was shorthanded. “He really makes the big saves at the right moment,” Roll said. “Tyson is our best penalty killer.”
Oswego’s victory allows them to only need a tie in game two Saturday night at 7:00 to move them into the SUNYAC finals. Potsdam will need to win, and then also take the mini-game afterwards.
After such an emotionally charged game, how will the teams respond the next night?
For Oswego, it will be to try and play smarter hockey. “I didn’t think we were very disciplined,” Roll said. “I didn’t think we controlled our emotions. We had too many four on fours and shorthanded situations.”
Meanwhile, Potsdam fully understands they have an uphill battle. “They’re a great hockey team in their own rink,” Thomaris admitted. “They’ve only lost once here this year.”