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Potsdam claims NAC Division I banner with win over OFA


POTSDAM - The Potsdam Central hockey team controlled its NAC regular season destiny at OFA’s expense on Tuesday at Pine Street Arena.

“This group has developed a very good team chemistry and that’s contributed to our consistency this season. It means a lot to win the league. It’s been a while since Potsdam has won it,” said coach Al Benda after the Sandstoners put the final pieces of the NAC championship puzzles in place with a 4-2 decision over the Blue Devils in the regular season finale for both squads.

With the win, the Sandstoners leap-frogged Massena Central to the top of the final Division I standings with a 10-2 record. The Raiders had already closed out their regular season with back-to-back wins over Potsdam to finish at 9-2-1 in the NAC. The loss kept the Blue Devils from doing the same in the Division II race as they slipped to 9-3-2, one point behind St. Lawrence Central which posted a 10-3-1 record after rallying to tie OFA the night before in Ogdensburg.

“I thought we did a good job of matching their intensity but we have to learn to do a better job of clearing puck out of our zone. That led to a couple of goals late in the period for them and those are tough goals to give up,” said OFA coach Jon Frederick. “You have to credit Potsdam though. They have a strong forecheck and they used it to create problems for us in our own zone.”

“We came to play. We just didn’t get the win we wanted tonight,” he added.

The Blue Devils opened the scoring 8:49 into the game when steady pressure in the Potsdam zone led to a goalmouth scramble that ended with seventh-grader Jared Barr controlled a rebound and wristed the puck just inside the right post. Jake Garrison and Brandon Mullin drew assists on the play.

With the period winding down, senior Robbie Scott outworked an OFA player for control of the puck along the right boards deep in the Blue Devils zone then skated toward the slot and wristed a shot into the upper right corner of the net to tie the game with 1:23 left.

The Sandstoners then took their first lead 8:02 into the second period when Scott was credited with the strangest goal of the night. After a save by netminder David Prudhomme, the puck sat still in the crease. An OFA defender fell onto the puck and attempted to cover it with his hand but wound up knocking it across the goalline.

The Blue Devils got a late boost of their own when Jon Tayler one-timed a pass from the left point by Gian Rufa into the back of the net to tie the game with 1:45 left in the middle frame. But the Sandstoners once again managed to regain the momentum with another late tally as eight-grader Courson Green tracked down a loose puck in the right slot and shoved it home inside the right post with just 17 seconds left.

Trevor Keleher closed out the scoring at 2:40 of the third, finishing a long rush up the right wing with a wristshot into the top right corner from the right slot.

“We’re a good skating team and I thought we were able to used that to our advantage tonight,” said coach Benda.

The Sandstoners also got a solid effort between the pipes from senior Devin Crary, who turned aside 21 of the shots he faced including a handful of point-blank attempts.

“Devin has really picked up his game for us. He’s definitely been playing to his ability and he came up with some big saves tonight,” Benda noted.

Prudhomme finished with 31 saves working the Blue Devil crease.

Both teams will now gear up for their respective Section 10 tournaments with Potsdam slated to host a Division I semi-final on Saturday against Salmon River at 1 p.m. at Pine Street Arena. “Salmon River is a good hockey team. Once the playoffs start, you can throw the win/loss records right out the window,” said Benda. “We know we have to be ready to play on Saturday.”

OFA, the second seed in the Division II tournament, will take on the winner of Friday’s first-round matchup between host Norwood-Norfolk and Tupper Lake on Wednesday, February 20, at the Golden Dome.

“We did a lot of good things tonight. We just have some things that we have to clean up,” said OFA assistant coach Matt Morley. “We’ll be ready come playoffs.”

Franklin Academy 2, Tupper Lake 0: In another NAC finale on Tuesday, the Huskies scored two unanswered goals in the second period and made them stand for the win over their Division II rivals. Tanner Studlack and Cameron Daniels broke through for the goals while Joey Brown handled 14 shots working the crease for the shutout for FA (8-11-1, 4-9-1).

Marcus Richer made 29 saves for Tupper Lake (1-17-2, 0-14—0).

The Huskies will host the Islanders in the other Friday first round game of the Division II playoffs. The winner of that game faces top-seeded St. Lawrence Central on Wednesday, February 20, at the Tri-Town Arena.

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