JMU has Flames' number again in season-ending OT setback
February 22, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
For the third time this season, Liberty University's ACHA Division III men's hockey team allowed James Madison University to rally from behind to stage an upset of the Flames, Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center, this time in the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference tournament's Atlantic Division semifinals.
After surviving a 5-on-3 power play by the Dukes (14-1) late in the third period, Liberty (17-4-1, the defending BRHC tournament champion) gave up the game-tying goal in a man-down situation with 2 minutes, 36 seconds left in regulation and the game-winning goal at even strength with 1:20 to go in the five-minute sudden-death overtime. The 4-3 season-ending setback came one night after the Flames advanced to the semifinals with a 4-3 shootout win over Radford in the first round.
"JMU, they've been the team we just can't overcome this year," said Liberty senior goalie John Hyland, who made several spectacular saves throughout the contest. "I don't know what it is. They've been playing us good. They come out and play with heart. We were ranked eighth in the South for a while (and) they're the reason we didn't get to go to regionals and they're the reason we're not winning the BRHC this year."
Liberty actually rallied from behind early, overcoming a 2-0 deficit to tie it up by the end of the first period on two unassisted scores by Chris Gurreri, the first on a power play and the second shorthanded.
"He was coming down on a play here and he tried to turn and he got hit and went awkwardly into the boards and injured his right knee," Liberty head coach Tristin Chambers said.
"It took some of the wind out of our sails for sure," Hyland added. "I think we bounced back. We definitely played with heart and sometimes, that's just the way it goes."
It looked for most of the third period that the Flames were going to withstand the Dukes' comeback bid, after giving up a 5-3 lead in a 6-5 loss two weeks ago in the same rink, keeping Liberty from clinching the BRHC regular-season title and earning the first-round bye.
But after the Flames were called for a penalty with 3:29 to play as Hyland made a quick stick save of a shot in the left crease by Nolan Morris, who then crashed into the left post, JMU capitalized on the power play with a furious assault on Liberty's cage.
"It's a heartbreaker, especially being up and unfortunately, we got some penalties," Chambers said. "Some of the calls I agreed with, some I didn't but it's not up to us to make the calls. It's up to the referees. It's unfortunate. It's tough. There's no real easy way to lose."
"It was a big momentum-changer," Hyland added of the last penalty. "That's kind of when we knew we were back on our heels a little bit. I don't think either team stopped fighting."
The two teams were penalized 24 times on the night and each had a player issued a 10-minute misconduct for a total of 68 minutes spent in the box.
"That was a lot of penalties and it caused the game to get a little choppy," Hyland said. "There was no real flow to the game for a while because of the penalties, but the refs called how they see it."
Less than a minute into the final power play, Hyland made a terrific pad save of a point-blank shot on goal by Morris off a pass by Brandon Sorbara from behind the net, but the Dukes' Louis Pulitano put the loose puck away seconds later, forcing the extra period. Then, just 80 seconds before a potential second shootout in two nights, JMU's Sam Stone took a short feed from John Loveland, skated in and kissed his wrist shot off the left pipe and into the left side of the net past Hyland, who had been riddled with shots in overtime.
"Losing Cockburn in the second period, that hurt a lot, so we had to adjust a lot," Chambers said. "Getting towards the overtime, a lot of our guys were spent. Not a lot of energy left.
"John Hyland, he played tremendous," he added. "He had a great game and it's unfortunate for him, too, because he's a senior this year. It makes the loss even more difficult."
The third loss to JMU this season was especially hard to swallow, particularly watching the Dukes' post-game celebration on Liberty's home ice. It was their first-ever playoff victory for the fifth-year program.
"It was right there, we just couldn't finish it off," Chambers said. "Props to JMU, they work hard, they have a lot of desire and that's what they did. That's how they won both their first two games against us and they did it again. They have six seniors, so they have a lot of guys graduating this year. This was kind of their last run as well."
Hyland is one of four seniors for Liberty who played their final game at LaHaye on Friday.
"It's my last one, the last time I'll put on the jersey, so it's a bit of a stinger," Hyland said. "I've been playing since I was little. It's definitely going to be hard to leave the game, but I'm proud to play here. I owe everything to those guys inside the (locker) room. I'm going to definitely miss playing with them."
JMU advances to today's Atlantic championship final against Maryland at 5 p.m. with the winner playing for the BRHC title on Sunday afternoon at LaHaye.