DII Flames maintain edge on rival Hokies in season opener
September 22, 2017 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's ACHA Division II men's hockey team made first-year Head Coach Ben Hughes' debut behind the bench a victorious one in a 4-1 season-opening triumph over Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey (MACH) South Division rival Virginia Tech, Friday afternoon at the LaHaye Ice Center.
"The team played well for the first time out with a lot of new guys and it was a good debut for the coaches, too," said senior forward Jeff Wilson. "I played with (former DI head captain) Hughes and (DII Assistant Coach Danny) Logan (two seasons ago on the DI team), so it was a fun way to start the season. We've got to refine some things, but other than that, we're looking good so far."
Senior forward Robert Ward capitalized on the Flames' first power play just seconds after the restart with 7:29 left in the first period, taking a cross-ice pass at the top of the left circle and skating in before lifting a wide-open wrist shot past Hokies goalie Christian Ciraco into the top right corner of the cage.
Liberty extended its lead to 2-0 with 12:13 left in the second period, seconds after losing its man advantage, this time set up by Ward with the Flames battling the Hokies four-on-four.
He sent a pass from the top of the left circle down to sophomore forward Drew Crilly near the left post. Crilly skated across the goal mouth, breaking his stick as he crashed into the right crease where sophomore forward Andy Clarke chipped the loose puck past Crilly and Ciraco into the back of the net.
Midway through the third period, senior defenseman Sean Bakker started a Flames' fast break with a sliding stop and outlet pass to Clarke, who sent a cross-ice feed to sophomore forward Jamie Crane for a finish from the right crease inside the left post for a 3-0 advantage.
"We some good speed on our line on transition and we (use it) all the way to the puck," Crane said. "That's probably how we'll score a lot of our goals this year. (Hughes) is making the defense focus on playing really aggressive in our defensive zone and also making quick transitions — getting the puck and moving it up the ice."
Ward capped Liberty's scoring with a seeing-eye wrist shot from the top of the left circle through traffic into the upper netting past a screened Ciraco, extending the Flames' lead to 4-0 with 4:43 left in the third.
Virginia Tech ended junior goalie Blake Scott's shutout bid with 2:25 remaining in regulation, in the closing seconds of a Hokies power play. Logan Simonian skated wide right and sent the puck back in front for Luke Slater who slammed it past Scott for the final score.
The Flames have dominated the Hokies since starting the "Battle of the Blue Ridge" in 2014-15, winning the best-of-three series in each of the past three seasons. They will only meet twice this season, with a rematch set for Dec. 3 at the Roanoke Civic Center.
Liberty returns to the LaHaye Ice Center next Friday at 8 p.m. against Wake Forest before embarking on its first road trip, Oct. 13-14 at Louisville.