Three-goal surge in final period lifts Flames over Hokies
December 7, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Three goals in a five-minute burst midway through the third period turned a back-and-forth battle between Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team and Virginia Tech's DII squad into a decisive 6-3 victory, Saturday night at the LaHaye Ice Center.
Junior forward Lindsay LeBlanc, who netted game-tying goals in the closing seconds of regulation in overtime wins over Delaware on Nov. 9 and Stony Brook on Nov. 15, recorded the game-winner against the Hokies. He capitalized off assists from senior defenseman Jackson Kuhn and freshman forward Robert Ward in the right crease, lifting Liberty to a 4-3 lead with 11:00 left in regulation.
"We didn't play very well in the first two periods and we had a bit of a team meeting in between (the second and the third)," LeBlanc said. "We knew we were going to figure it out and I was just happy to be there. Kuhner made a great pass on the power play and it just squeaked through the five-hole."
Less than a minute later, after sophomore forward Bram Erickson hit a post, LeBlanc won a faceoff in Virginia Tech's zone back to his roommate, Tyson Street. The sophomore forward unloaded a slapshot through traffic from the top of the circle that beat goalie Walker Detweiler into the upper netting, extending the lead to 5-3.
"I was just hoping to win one clean for him and I did, he made a great shot, high glove so it was good," LeBlanc said.
Senior forward and captain Andrew McCombe, who netted one of the Flames' three tying goals in the first two periods, punctuated the scoring surge four minutes later by rocketing a slap shot from the top of the right circle off a nifty backhanded assist from the left side by Ward.
"The critical part for us came in the end of the second period intermission," Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. "We just had to regroup and kind of delete the first 40 minutes and focus on what we have control of and that's the next 20 minutes. We're real happy with our guys' response in the third period, obviously, with three goals and we had an opportunity for a couple more."
It was the third straight three-goal victory by the Flames (20-3) over the Hokies (14-3), improving their record to 8-0 in the series. Liberty had won the first five meetings since 2007, when it moved up to the DI level, by a combined score of 62-8.
Just like last season's lone meeting between the two teams, a 5-2 Liberty victory on Jan. 20, the Hokies struck first. Freshman forward Ryan Abshear followed his fast-break shot from in the left circle that bounced off the chest of Liberty and crashed into the cage as the puck glanced off the glove of a Liberty defenseman into the net.
Less than three minutes later, exactly 30 seconds after killing a Virginia Tech power play, Liberty tied it up on a well-executed odd-man rush. Sophomore defenseman Brandon Cox, in his first game back from injury, dished a pass back to sophomore forward DJ Dinnison on the break before Dinnison sent a beautiful pass across the goal mouth to freshman forward Brandon Mistal for a wide-open finish.
But just two minutes into the second period, the Hokies re-claimed a 2-1 lead when freshman forward Douglas McDonald followed up a determined charge through the left circle by junior forward Alex Smith with a sliding finish from deep in the left crease.
McCombe knotted it back up with 8:50 left in the second period by chipping a loose puck over a scrum in front of the cage after an initial shot by fellow senior captain Kuhn from the top of the right circle.
The Hokies (14-3) took their third lead just a minute and 25 seconds later after three spectacular, sprawling saves by Liberty senior goalie Blair Bennett (25 saves), the last two of wide-open shots by Alex Hashmi. Zach Walz regained possession behind the goal and sent a quick pass to Smith who finished near the right post.
However, the Flames responded with one last equalizer with 2:44 left in the second when Dinnison skated out from behind the left side of the cage and lifted a backhanded shot into the top right corner.
"Our guys stuck with it," Handy said. "We kept our composure and that's a big thing for us, not getting too down and out, just realizing we are going to be resilient night-in and night-out."
"We know we have the talent to come back against any team," LeBlanc added. "Finally, when we decided to work hard and get our feet moving, we took it to them. We've got a great team, a real deep team. We've got the guys to win a national championship and that's our expectation."
Liberty, which enters the Christmas break just four wins short of last season's win total (when they finished 24-14-2), returns to action Jan 11-12 at Stony Brook. The Seawolves moved up to No. 10 in the latest ACHA DI rankings after salvaging a split against the fourth-ranked Flames.
"We try not to even look at rankings because they change every week and we're just trying to get better every day we're on the ice," LeBlanc said. "Our goal is just to get better every day. We're just looking forward to after Christmas. We've got a tough schedule and we're gearing up for nationals."