Flames blow out Blue Streaks late, await rematch with Ohio
March 1, 2013 | Chicago, Ill.
A couple weeks of healing did a world of good for Liberty University's Division I men's hockey team in Friday night's 7-1 triumph over John Carroll in the opening round of the ACHA DI national tournament at The Edge Ice Arena near Chicago.
The 13th-seeded Flames' equalizing and go-ahead goals were scored by players who had missed recent action due to injury.
Sean Lattal gave the 20th-seeded Blue Streaks an early 1-0 lead by sneaking a puck past Liberty goalie Clayton Brown, who split his pads to make an initial toe save of a shot off a faceoff won by Dan Potter, John Carroll's leading scorer.
But Cam Bakker, in his first game in a month and a half since getting slammed into the boards at West Virginia, netted the tying goal for Liberty with a shot from near the blue line eight minutes into the first period. Then, moments after Brown made two sliding split saves of chances in front of the net by Potter and Lattal, and Lindsay LeBlanc won the ensuing faceoff on the Flames' defensive end, Christian Garland scored on a lightning-fast counterattack, redirecting the puck through the legs of Blue Streaks goalie Justin Camuto at the last second for a 2-1 lead with 5:43 left in the second.
"Both of those guys played huge," Liberty head coach Kirk Handy said of Bakker and Garland. "The turning point was the huge save by Brown. He keeps that out and we go on transition. It was a great play by Clayton leading to a great play by Garland."
Rather than trailing 2-1, Liberty, which outshot John Carroll 55 to 27 on the night, seized the lead for good.
Given a bit of breathing room, the Flames aired out their attack in the third period, getting two quick goals from leading scorer Rick Turner, who put on an offensive clinic in the final 20 minutes. First, with Liberty opening the period on a power play, he slid a shot from in the slot into the top shelf past Camuto. Four minutes later, Turner gave the Flames a 4-1 advantage by finishing another wrist shot from a tough angle along the left endline off Camuto into the net for his 43rd goal of the season and 90th of his career.
"That got us rolling in the third," Handy said. "When we scored the fourth one, we were kind of able to keep rolling from there."
Four minutes after that, Andrew McCombe tipped in the follow of a shot by Jackson Kuhn to push the lead to 5-1 before Caleb Grow fired a bullet from in the right circle less than a minute later and Scott Morongell capped the scoring with a short-handed goal after a coast-to-coast counterattack.
"That was a beautiful shot by Morongell," Handy said. "Three of our seven goals were scored by defensemen (Bakker and Kuhn were the others), so that was huge. It was a pretty good night, a step forward. We played really well."
Liberty matched its season-high scoring mark for a period with the five-goal outburst in the third.
"It was a huge third period," Handy said. "It was a tight game up until (that point). John Carroll played a strong game against us. We stuck to our system as well as stuck to putting the puck on the net. We tried to keep doing what we were doing and knew if we did that, we were going to be successful."
After being upset in their opening game of nationals the last two years, the Flames (24-13-2) advanced to Saturday's second-round game against fourth-seeded Ohio (26-7-1).
The last time the Flames faced the Bobcats, they knocked them from the No. 1 spot in the ACHA DI poll with a 4-3 victory at the LaHaye Ice Center, a night after dropping a 3-2 decision.
"We look forward to coming to play (Saturday) night against Ohio," Handy said. "Both teams have a great deal of respect for one another and are going to come to play hard."
He expects the Flames to be prepared to engage in an intense 60-minute battle once the puck drops at 8:30 p.m. (EST) in the John Street rink, located next door to the West rink they played in Friday night.
"They're very deep, with four lines (but) I think we match with them very well," Handy said. "We're going to have to have a different game plan. All we can do is put our game plan together and make sure the players implement that game plan."
In Friday night's other first-round action, 14th-seeded Central Oklahoma edged No. 19 Niagara 1-0 in overtime, No. 18 Rutgers upset No. 18 Navy 5-3, and No. 16 Stony Brook doubled up No. 17 Rhode Island 6-3.
The winner of tonight's second-round match between Ohio and Liberty will advance to face the winner of the game between Iowa State and tournament host Robert Morris Illinois, set to start an hour later in the West rink, Sunday at 8:30 p.m. (EST).