Flames fend off feisty Panthers, capture Blue and Gray Cup
October 19, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team clinched the second annual Blue and Gray Cup, commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, by completing a two-game sweep of Davenport University with a dramatic 3-2 victory, Saturday night at the LaHaye Ice Center.
"It's a character test, these one-goal games," Liberty head coach Kirk Handy said. "We had two in Ohio and one last night and then one tonight and we're just finding ways to win. It's the will of our team."
The civility between the two fierce rivals from Virginia and Michigan, pivotal players in the "War Between the States," didn't even last a period before a skirmish broke out on the ice with Liberty holding a seemingly secure 3-0 lead.
"Every year I've been here, it's always been games like this, where it's high intensity, hard-hitting," said Liberty senior forward Andrew McCombe, whose check of a Davenport player into the boards behind the goal prompted the Panthers to retaliate, sparking the scrum.
Fortunately, the Flames, ranked No. 9 in the latest ACHA DI poll ahead of the 12th-ranked Panthers, had the depth to withstand the losses to its lineup after several players from both sides were ejected.
"We do have a very deep team this year and it shows in games like that," McCombe said. "We're still able to carry the play and win even when we have a number of guys get taken out, so it's good."
"We're real happy with our effort level, for sure, and our willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done," Handy added.
The unnecessary roughness detracted from the Flames' exceptional offensive execution throughout the first period. Bram Erickson netted Liberty's first two goals, first finishing feeds from fellow sophomore forward Danny Logan and freshman forward Charles Williams on a fast break. Then, with 4:35 left in the first period, senior defenseman Jackson Kuhn launched a shot from the left wing that Davenport goalie Matthew Kaludis blocked into the left crease. Erickson stretched out his body and stick to flick the rebound up and over the goalie's shoulder inside the left post.
Two minutes later, the Flames made it 3-0 by capitalizing on a two-on-one fast break. Junior forward Lindsay LeBlanc sent a cross-ice pass to McCombe whose shot from deep in the left circle glanced off Kaludis' glove. LeBlanc was perfectly positioned to clean up the loose puck and slam it past Kaludis before crashing into the cage.
Liberty narrowly missed on several second-period scoring opportunities, with Logan hitting a pipe with his shot from the right circle, Brandon Mistal rejected in his a one-on-one break with Davenport goalie Phil Graveline, and Williams misfiring on an open shot from the left crease just wide of the left post.
Those missed opportunities opened the door for Davenport, which got one goal back with 5:22 left in the second period when Luke McCarthy finished a shot from the right wing. Then, three minutes after Robert Ward was issued a five-minute penalty for hooking, Davenport forward Robert Kleiman snuck a shot from between the circles through the legs of Blair Bennett to pull the Panthers back within a goal with 7:26 left in the third.
But Bennett came up with several big saves in the clutch, as he had the night before in posting a 2-1 triumph, and the Flames emerged victorious, outshooting Davenport, 23-21.
"It's a good feeling because we lost two games straight last year, so it was nice to win two games straight this year," McCombe said.
Handy will savor the sweep of the Flames' less-than-friendly rivals.
"No game or victory is a super, super big deal for us," he said. "It's all part of the journey that we're on as a team. We just want to continue to be the best we can be every night out there."