Penalties kill Flames' bid to advance to ACHA DII Final Four
March 23, 2014 | Marlborough, Mass.
Liberty University's ACHA Division II men's hockey team was assessed 11 minutes in penalties in the first period against New Hampshire, leading to three power-play goals in a span of five minutes in Sunday's third and final round of pool play at the ACHA DII National Championships.
A five-minute major for slashing seconds after the first goal by freshman forward Austin Spraque opened the door for the Wildcats to net two more scores on five-on-three advantages to seize a 3-0 lead by period's end. New Hampshire later repelled Liberty's comeback bid by adding three more goals at even strength in the final 30 minutes of a 6-2 victory.
Both teams went 2-1 in the four-team pool, but New Hampshire (20-7) clinched the lone bid into Monday's semifinals with the win over the Flames (25-8-1). There was no need for a three-way tiebreaker after top-seeded Grand Valley State University was upset by Northern Arizona in a game played simultaneously Sunday in another of the six rinks at New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Mass.
The Flames gave up six goals for only the third time this season (all losses) despite a valiant effort and some spectacular saves by Liberty junior net-minder Cary Byron, who made 32 saves.
"Cary was definitely outstanding all weekend," Liberty Assistant Coach Mike Morrison said. "He stood on his head the first two games. Today, a lot of the goals were on special teams and odd-man rushes that he couldn't do anything about."
The Wildcats were particularly potent on the power play. In the first five-on-three opportunity, New Hampshire sophomore forward Zachary Mourad converted the putback of a shot by senior defenseman Zach Bradanick past Byron from point-blank range. Freshman forward Max Turcotte later finished a cross-crease pass from sophomore forward David DeDonato to push the lead to 3-0.
"UNH was a very good team on special teams," Morrison said. "We were looking just to play five-on-five. When we did that in the first two games, we showed we could compete with any team at nationals."
The Flames, who overcame a 2-0 deficit in a 6-2 triumph over Northern Arizona on Saturday, scored twice in a three-and-a-half-minute stretch and appeared to get right back in the game.
With 12:55 left in the second period, Liberty freshman forward Ben Freymond ended the shutout by lifting a left-handed wrist shot from inside the right circle under the crossbar.
After New Hampshire killed a penalty, Flames junior forward Johnny Cotton sent a behind-the-net feed to sophomore forward Josh King, who redirected the puck past New Hampshire freshman goalie Dylan Palmer to trim the deficit to 3-2.
However, New Hampshire responded two and a half minutes later ith an unassisted goal off a faceoff by Spraque, who lifted a wrist shot from deep in the right circle over Byron's shoulder top shelf. The Wildcats then reclaimed a three-goal advantage with 3:05 left in the second when DeDonato scored on a counterattack set up by sophomore forward Bobby Keough's breakaway steal.
"To give up that fifth goal was really devastating because we knew our goals-against average would not carry us (out of the pool in a tie-breaker)," Morrison said. "Unless we won the game, we were out of the tournament."
The Flames had back-to-back five-on-three opportunities in the third period, but came away empty-handed. Liberty Head Coach Chris Lowes then pulled Byron for the final four minutes of regulation and Mourad put the Wildcats' win and semifinal berth on ice with an empty-net score from along the right boards.
It was the final game in the careers of senior forwards Brad Docksteader and Bobby Cervone as well as defenseman Greg Whyte.
"As a senior, we put a lot on (Docksteader's) shoulders," Morrison said, noting he played almost the entire third period. "The guys did the best that they could to try to come back and win the game and we were proud that they made it as far as they did, even to make it to nationals."
On Tuesday, New Hampshire went on to capture the ACHA DII national title with a 5-3 victory over Southeast Region champion Florida Gulf Coast, which dealt the Flames three of their losses this season.