Flames maul Golden Grizzlies with season-high scoring mark
February 8, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
A career-high five-goal night by junior forward Lindsay LeBlanc lifted Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team to an authoritative 11-2 defeat of Oakland (Mich.) University, Saturday night at the LaHaye Ice Center. The Flames kept their cool for the most part and controlled the contest from the opening faceoff.
"Our team discipline was very strong last weekend and this weekend," Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said.
The Flames' season-high goal total included six power-play scores, including their final three after Oakland sophomore forward Patrick Smiatacz was called for a five-minute non-releasable penalty late in the third period.
"Jake Hannon handles the power play for our coaching staff and he has done an excellent job for us," Handy said of his first-year assistant coach. "Before the game, he was working with them and it's evident that the hard work they're putting in during the week is paying off."
Precise passing and timely, potent finishing characterized Liberty's offensive execution and physical forechecking and stingy net-minding by senior goalie Blair Bennett were trademarks of its defense as the Flames outshot the Golden Grizzlies 38-23 to completed a four-game season sweep.
Liberty (26-6-2), ranked No. 4 in the latest ACHA DI poll, needed just six minutes to match its scoring total from Friday night's 3-1 victory over No. 15 Oakland (18-15-1), which had taken three of four from the Flames last season.
"We're been trying to get our guys to elevate our game," Handy said. "We believe in the four lines that we've got. We believe in the guys inside that locker room. The last few games, we haven't had very good starts. It was nice to see us come out and play really well in the first 10 minutes of the game and score a few goals. That was a major turning point in the game. We had all four lines jumping."
LeBlanc (five goals, one assist) and freshman forward Robert Ward (one goal, four assists), Liberty's top two scorers on the season, padded their season totals with Ward starting the scoring with a blistering shot from between the circles on a rebound of D.J. Dinnison's near miss from the left wing on transition.
LeBlanc set up the Flames' second goal by winning the faceoff after a crosschecking call put Liberty on the power play. He pushed the puck to Ward who sent it back to LeBlanc in the left corner where he sent a feed across the crease to senior defenseman Jackson Kuhn who put it away inside the right post.
Two minutes later, LeBlanc received an outlet pass from junior defenseman Cam Bakker and finished a putback of his own miss from a tough angle wide of the left post for a 3-0 advantage with 13:56 left in the first period.
He extended the edge to 4-0 by converting in the right crease off a cross-ice assist on transition from sophomore defenseman Steven Bellew with 9:19 to play in the period.
Oakland finally got on the scoreboard two minutes later when Smiatacz snuck the rebound of a shot by freshman forward Ryan Rotondi that glanced off Bennett's glove under the sprawling goalie near the left post. Dinnison responded with the Flames' fifth goal of the first, finishing feeds from Ward and senior forward Caleb Grow by sending a knuckler from the left circle through the five-hole of Oakland junior goalie Corey Hrischuk.
"The boys just came out and battled," LeBlanc said. "We were looking to rebound, especially at home after losing to Arizona State. I'm just happy we won. We're on a steady incline. We're trying to improve every game for nationals. We want to be playing our best hockey in March and this was just another step."
LeBlanc capitalized on his second power-play goal and recorded his hat trick on a five-on-three early in the second period, after senior forward Andrew McCombe passed the puck back and forth with Ward who found LeBlanc open in the left circle. McCombe boosted the lead to 7-1 by cutting through the left crease and finishing a backhanded feed from Bellew.
On the other end, Bennett made a huge glove save of a point-blank, open-net shot by Grizzlies' leading scorer Anthony Colizza in the right side of the cage before the Flames' defense extinguished an Oakland five-on-three power play in the closing minutes of the second period.
"Those guys have been strong for us all year," Handy said of junior Ryan Kerr and Christian Garland in particular on the penalty kill. "It helps our confidence to know we can do that and produce offensively. Blair had some huge saves for us. He had a nice weekend for us."
In the final 30 seconds of the second period, Kuhn, screening Hrischuck, deflected in a powerful shot by Ward from the left circle set up by McCombe for an 8-1 advantage.
Then in the third, after Colizza put away a shot by Rotondi from the left side that bounced off the back boards right to him near the right post, LeBlanc got his fourth goal on another break in the right slot off assists from Kuhn, junior forward Ryley Egan, and Ward. Egan then cashed in with a wrist shot off assists from McCombe and Kuhn before LeBlanc punctuated the scoring outburst with a rebound of a shot from the point by McCombe which he finished while falling down after a check from Oakland's Mike Baker.
Liberty returns to LaHaye next Friday and Saturday nights for two games against West Virginia, which has already qualified for the ACHA DI national tournament by clinching the College Hockey Mid-America conference.