Liberty's third-period comeback falls flat against Wildcats
January 25, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
On a day when Adrian College ended Arizona State's eight-week run atop the ACHA Division I men's hockey rankings, No. 18 Arizona upset No. 10 Liberty University 4-2, Friday night in the LaHaye Ice Center.
Liberty (19-10-2), looking to improve on its 4-0 all-time record against the Wildcats and extend its five-game winning streak, which started with a two-game sweep in Tucson, Ariz., two weeks ago, got out to a less-than-stellar start and Arizona (15-15) capitalized, scoring twice in the opening six and a half minutes.
Michael Ferreira found the net first, cleaning up Andrew Murmes' shot from the top right circle by sliding a point-blank putback past Flames' goalie Blair Bennett.
Three minutes later, Wildcats senior forward Brian Slugocki overtook the team scoring lead by receiving a cross-ice pass from Brennen Parker and ripping a one-timed shot from the left circle into the upper-left netting, making it 2-0.
"I really think a lot of it was a lack of focus tonight," Liberty head coach Kirk Handy said. "We let them get up on us early and that shouldn't happen at home, especially when we knew what to expect out of them and they still went out and did it."
Following near misses by Flames forwards Lindsay LeBlanc, on a short-range shot in front of the cage, and Brent Boschman, who chipped the puck just over the goal from deep in the left crease, Liberty ended its scoring drought when Boschman sneaked the puck around Arizona goalie Steven Sisler from the right side off a faceoff won by Rick Turner.
The Flames had a few near misses at the end of the first period, starting with a mid-air swat shot by freshman Bram Erickson that glanced off the crossbar as he skated into Sisler.
Then, starting the second period on a power play, Liberty had two more close calls when Turner's rebound from deep in the left crease was blocked and Matt Sherry hit the left pipe with a slap shot from beyond the left circle.
With five minutes left in the second period, Bennett made two saves off quality scoring chances by the Wildcats, the first with his glove and second with a kick.
But he couldn't stop consecutive shots by Ansel Ivens-Anderson in the closing minute of the second as Ivens-Anderson followed his own miss, blocked by Bennett's glove and glancing off his mask, by slapping the rebound past Sherry and Bennett in front of the goal, stretching the Wildcats' lead to 3-1.
The Flames, who had erased third-period deficits in both of their wins over the Wildcats in Tucson, tried to mount a comeback on their home ice. Turner one-timed a slap shot past Sisler off an end-line assist by Boschman just over two minutes into the action, trimming the AU advantage to 3-2.
But a slashing penalty on Turner with 1:56 remaining put the Wildcats on the power play until a cross-checking penalty against Arizona's Mike Adamowicz on Liberty's Jackson Kuhn left the teams at even strength for the final 40 seconds. After a timeout, the Flames opted to pull Bennett out of the goal, giving them a man advantage. However, a turnover led to a breakaway opportunity for the Wildcats, and Murmes finished off an assist from Ivens-Anderson for the clinching score past Sherry, who was left guarding an empty net.
"We're pressing to score there, which is the right thing," Handy said. "We had the play set up, it just didn't happen the way we wanted it to."
Liberty outshot the Wildcats 37-33 for the game, led by seven shots by Andrew McCombe. But the Flames let Sisler off the hook without their usual killer instinct on attack.
"We missed opportunities to score tonight and that was the difference," Handy said. "They outworked us tonight and they won the game. We have to reverse that (Saturday) night. If we get the focus there (on Saturday) which we know we can and we outwork them, it'll be a different story. We've got to have that battling attitude, that we're going to outbattle them and outwork them."
Arizona may have had a motivational advantage against Liberty as it is on the bubble for a berth in the 20-team ACHA Division I playoffs.
"It's anyone's game," Handy said of the postseason. "Anyone in the top 18 has a shot. Arizona's a good team and that's a good win for them. They're well coached, they're a good team, but we're going to come ready to play (Saturday night)."
The Flames will conclude the two-game series with Arizona Saturday night in the LaHaye Ice Center, starting at 7 p.m.
20130125 Men's hockey vs. University of Arizona - Images by Cali Lowdermilk/Liberty University