The second game of the SUNYAC semifinal round was decided in the first 2:58 of play, when Oswego came out strong, took advantage of some skating room, and jumped out to a 2-1 lead. They never looked back as the Great Lakers defeated Potsdam, 5-1, sweeping the two-game series.
“I thought that was the biggest difference,” Oswego coach George Roll said of the first few minutes. “We got our feet moving, finished our checks off, and Tyson [Gajda] looked to be his old self.”
It took just 32 seconds for Oswego to light the lamp. They applied pressure in Potsdam’s zone right from the opening faceoff, and if finally paid off when the puck snuck out in front from behind the net. Ryan Venturelli couldn’t clear it away from the crease, and Rob Smith finally banged it home.
Potsdam tied it up less than two minutes later. Phil Aubry dug it out of the corner, and centered it for Tim Powers with a defenseman between him and the goalie. Powers one-timed it, taking advantage of the screen as Gajda did not see it.
However, Oswego was still flying, and 46 seconds later, they retook the lead. Mike Lukajic entered the Bears’ zone, fought off the last defender, and went in on a breakaway. He quickly fired a shot over the glove side shoulder of Venturelli.
Potsdam coach Glenn Thomaris was not surprised by the quick start. “We knew that was going to be the case,” he admitted. “We were trying to get through the first five minutes to make a game of it.”
It nearly became 3-1 in those five minutes, when Oswego again went in on a breakaway. This time it was Paul Perrier who just came out of the penalty box. He too fired high, a common theme throughout the game for Oswego, striking the underside of the crossbar. The puck came straight down and back out.
Oswego thought they scored, as did Potsdam, as they stopped playing the puck. The ref waved it off, saying the puck never went in the net.
The Great Lakers did finally make it 3-1 midway through the opening period. Oswego again had some open ice to play with, and they gladly took it. After a few passes, Justin Perron had the puck in the high slot area. He rifled a shot — high again — by Venturelli.
Gajda, who ended up with 27 saves for the win, was happy with the early lead. “These guys gave me the confidence getting us up a few goals,” he said.
The wide-open play in the first period favored Oswego, but the second period tightened up again. This opened the door for Potsdam to try and get back into the game. However, the period went by without a score.
“We took some bad penalties,” Roll said of the second period. “We played in our zone a lot. Tyson made some good saves.”
The Bears had an opportunity to get back into the game early in the third period on the power play, but they hit the post twice instead. When the puck was on net, Gajda made some tremendous saves. Potsdam went zero for six on the power play, while Oswego also failed to score on four power-play opportunities.
Oswego sealed the game when a Mark Strzoda shot was saved. The puck went high in the air and came back down in front of the crease. Players on both sides had trouble finding it, but Jocelyn Dubord saw and knocked the puck into the net.
Potsdam wouldn’t give up as they pulled their goalie with 2:45 left in the game. It didn’t pay off, as Perron scored an empty-net goal from his own corner, shooting the entire length of the ice.
The hard and sometimes vicious hitting, series took its toll on the teams. Oswego’s Jean-Simon Richard broke his hand at the end of the first game and is out for the rest of the season. Potsdam’s Chris Lee separated his shoulder during the third period Friday night, tried to play tonight, but aggravated it when he was taken down on a breakaway in the first period. He ended up watching the final two periods in street clothes from the stands.
Potsdam ends their season 14-13-2 in Thomaris’ first year at the helm.
Oswego moves onto the SUNYAC championship which they will host against Plattsburgh. Oswego is now 21-5-1. It is their first 20-win season since 1987-88. The best-of-three final starts Friday at 7 p.m.