BRHC-leading Dukes prove to be Flames' DIII hockey nemesis
February 8, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
A successful regular season for Liberty University's Division III men's hockey team came to a bittersweet end, Friday night at home against Blue Ridge Hockey Conference rival James Madison University.
The Flames, who had their 14-game winning streak snapped by the Dukes with a 7-5 loss in the Main Street Arena in Charlottesville on Jan. 19, opened a 3-0 first-period lead in Friday night's rematch at the LaHaye Ice Center. But the Flames gave up three straight goals spanning the first and second periods and three more in a span of four and a half minutes in the third, the first with JMU on a 5-on-3 power play, to let a 5-3 advantage slip away in a 6-5 regular-season-ending setback.
It was a battle for first place in the BRHC between Liberty (16-3-1, 11-2 BRHC) and the Dukes (10-1 BRHC), but the Flames, who have lost three of five games in the new year, were missing their usual spark in the third period.
"I don't know (what happened)," Liberty head coach Tristin Chambers said. "It was just a lack of passion, a lack of desire. They wanted it and they had the desire to take it to us."
The Flames allowed JMU to answer goals by leading scorer Brandon Cockburn, Chris Gurreri, and Mark Lariviere, tying the match at 3-3 early in the second period. Brandon Sorbara capped the initial comeback by skating through traffic into the left crease and lifting a backhanded shot into the upper-right corner of the net past Liberty goalie Cary Byron for his second of three goals.
The Flames reclaimed the lead less than five minutes later when leading Cockburn netted his 30th goal of the year off a give-and-go with Chad Docksteader, sticking the puck into the left side of the net past JMU goalie Alex Parker while crashing into the cage after being checked from behind by Brenden Smith.
Gurreri then gave the Flames a 5-3 edge by finishing a break from a seemingly impossible angle on the right endline inside the left post with 4:00 left in the second.
JMU's Max Kortegast picked up a five-minute penalty early in the third and Liberty was awarded a 5-on-3 power play for two minutes after another penalty, but the Flames failed to finish off the Dukes, who took advantage.
"We've had trouble on our power play," Chambers said. "That's an opportunity where we need to at least get one out of our 5-on-3 and they capitalized on it."
Sorbara sent an assist across the goal mouth to Mitchell Allen, who put his shot from in the right crease into the top shelf.
"We had a breakdown, guys got to scrambling and that's exactly what they wanted to do," Chambers said. "They found that guy back door and he was wide open. All he had to do was finish."
Two minutes later, the Dukes' Eric Jacobs skated past Nate Atangan and fed Sam Stone in the right crease, where he finished a left-handed wrist shot into the upper-right corner, tying it at 5-5. Exactly a minute after that, with 4:05 left in regulation, Louis Pulitano rifled a slap shot from near the center of the blue line that trickled past Byron into the net for what proved to be the game-winner.
"We had a few moments of brilliance and a few moments where guys looked good and then, there were times where guys looked like they had lead in their skates," Chambers said. "They just didn't have the legs going and just a lack of passion, I guess."
The Dukes' second triumph over the Flames nearly assured them the top seed in the Feb. 21-24 BRHC tournament hosted by Liberty.
"They still have a couple games left to play (including Old Dominion on Saturday), and it depends on what they do, but chances are they'll win those games," Chambers said. "So we'll probably be the second seed going into the playoffs and we'll probably have to play Radford to play (JMU again) on Friday the 22nd. We definitely have a lot to do. We have the team that I know can beat that team, it's just it was a rough go. They've had our number this year."
Liberty forfeited its final game against Catholic in Washington, D.C., due to a potential conflict with the South Regional tournament. The Flames were ranked eighth for the first two ACHA DIII polls before falling to 12th following the first loss to JMU and 13th after losing to No. 2 Kennesaw State, 5-1, last weekend. Only the top 10 ranked teams advanced to regional play.
"The season was pretty good," Chambers said. "We started out pretty strong, beat a couple of the top-end teams that are going to regionals, but fell apart the second half of the season, since the new year. Our schedule wasn't quite as strong, then losing that game against JMU hurt us. We had a couple of guys that we lost, but we still have the team to be competitive."
Liberty is looking forward to starting afresh in the postseason, as it seeks to defend its BRHC tournament title after beating Radford, William & Mary, and UNC Charlotte in last year's championship game.
"All three of those games we ended up coming back from being down to winning," Chambers said. "So it was a great year last year and we're hoping to repeat, but we have obviously got a lot of work to do. We've got four practices to get ready for it."
He hopes playing at home in the tournament will help, as it did last year, with possible first- and second-round matches against Radford and JMU, respectively.
"At least we'll be on our home ice, which is beneficial," Chambers said. "Guys are used to being here, we practice here two times per week, so that gives them the opportunity to at least be comfortable with the surroundings."
20130208 D3 Hockey vs JMU - Images by Joel Coleman/Liberty University