Top-ranked Sun Devils take Round 1 from Flames decisively
January 24, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
Facing No. 1-ranked Arizona State University for the first time at the LaHaye Ice Center, Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team, ranked No. 3, suffered its only lopsided loss in the series, falling 5-2 Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center.
The Sun Devils had won the four previous meetings with the Flames in extremely competitive contests, including back-to-back shootouts in 2012 and 2013 and a 3-2 shootout last Thursday in Tempe, Ariz.
"I think we'll be better tomorrow," Liberty sophomore defenseman Brandon Cox said of Saturday night's rematch at 7:30 p.m. "We've just got to come out stronger than what we did tonight. We came out flat-footed. What we played tonight wasn't Liberty hockey. We need to make a couple adjustments and I think we'll be good (Saturday)."
The Flames (23-4-1) missed a few quality scoring chances early on before ASU (27-1) struck twice in the final six minutes of the first period, the first on a shot rifled by freshman defenseman Drew Newmeyer from the top of the right circle that beat senior goalie Blair Bennett to the upper right corner.
"There were a lot of things not going our way tonight and we were a little flat as well, which is tough to believe with the amount of fans we had and the rest we had this week," Liberty senior defenseman and captain Jackson Kuhn said. "It's just one of those things where you've got to be able to battle through adversity, and that's what the best teams know how to do."
Five minutes later, the Sun Devils capitalized on the power play for a 2-0 edge. Taking advantage of a screen by ASU freshman forward Eric Revard in front of Bennett, senior forward Danny McAuliffe converted a give-and-go feed from junior forward Liam Morris, positioned near the right post.
The Flames allowed two second-period goals, the first seconds after cutting the deficit to 2-1 on a spectacular goal by freshman forward Robert Ward.
Ward won a faceoff against ASU senior forward Dave Jantzie in the Sun Devils' defensive zone and, while falling down, put the puck away top shelf over senior goalie Joseph D'Elia.
ASU sophomore defenseman Jarrod Levos sparked a breakaway counterattack by evading checks from Liberty forwards Christian Garland and Tyson Street and clearing the puck off the right side of the boards to Revard. He skated swiftly down the left wing and capitalized on a one-on-one with Bennett into the upper left corner.
Freshman forward Ryan Ostertag, who had scored the game-winner in overtime last Thursday at ASU, expanded the Sun Devils' lead to 4-1 with another dagger, capping a three-on-two break from a difficult angle left of the cage.
"They do a really good job of bringing the puck in onto the zone under control," Kuhn said. "Our captain, Andrew McCombe, is always telling us we've got to be better in the gray zones, and that's in neutral ice, getting those pucks deep and don't let them have those fast breaks."
Michael Cummings all but put the game on ice by finishing another three-on-two counterattack from close to the same spot with 14:27 to go. Liberty sophomore forward Peter Kazmierczak, called up from the DII team earlier this month, netted his first goal at the DI level, capping the scoring by deflecting in a shot by sophomore defenseman Steven Bellew from near the right side of the blue line through D'Elia's five-hole with just under five minutes to go.
Kuhn said the setback, while tough to swallow, was only a bump in the road in the Flames' long-distance journey to the ACHA DI national tournament.
"It's the regular season right now," he said. "In playoff hockey is where you really have to show up and the better team wins. We're looking forward to getting (ASU) not only (Saturday), but down the stretch because we know we're going to see them again."
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer