Flames cage Tigers on LeBlanc's hat trick, Bennett's shutout
September 27, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's and Towson University's ACHA Division I men's hockey teams last met in the 2009-10 season, facing one another for the first time with the Flames winning all four contests by decisive 10-1, 12-2, 11-1, and 8-3 scores.
Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center, it was more of the same as Liberty shut out the Tigers, 10-0.
Demonstrating the depth of their scoring lines, the Flames built a commanding 6-0 lead less than three minutes into the second period without a single goal or assist from their top three scorers.
Senior defensman Jackson Kuhn (five goals, four assists), freshman forward Robert Ward (3G, 6A), and junior forward Ryley Egan (4G, 5A), who entered the game tied for the ACHA DI scoring lead with nine points apiece, were shut out until the third period. That's when Ward finished a feed from Kyle Garcia to rekindle the Flames' attack, which erupted to score the final four goals in a five-minute stretch.
Junior forward Lindsay LeBlanc scored the game's first two goals off double assists from senior forward Andrew McCombe and freshman forward Brandon Mistal. He later completed his hat trick unassisted on a follow of his own shot in the left crease, initially saved by Tigers cage-tender Steve Kelly, padding Liberty's lead to 9-0.
"Our guys executed well tonight," Flames coach Kirk Handy said. "We had a lot of guys pitch in and we had a strong game. (Freshman forward Charles) Williams and Mistal, it was nice to see them score and McCombe and LeBlanc each had a big night."
McCombe overtook his three teammates for Liberty's and the nation's scoring lead by netting two goals and distributing four assists, bringing his season totals to five goals and seven assists (12 points).
After scoring his first goal off assists from LeBlanc and Steven Bellew with seven minutes left in the first period, McCombe skated down the right wing 49 seconds into the second period and beat four Towson players and Kelly with his shot from inside the right circle. Two minutes later, Williams set up Bram Erickson beautifully for an open-net score from the right side, extending the Flames' edge to 6-0.
Midway through the third period Liberty DII call-up DJ Dinnison broke into the scoring column, netting his first goal at the DI level on a follow of a long shot by Bellew for a commanding 8-0 advantage.
Even when the Flames (5-0) were shorthanded, they remained on attack, as was the case late in the second period when LeBlanc was called for a crosscheck, giving the Tigers (1-2) a five-on-four power play. Over the next two minutes, Towson failed to put a shot on goal while Egan and Erickson had one-one-one scoring chances with Kelly.
Blair Bennett, making his first start in goal since tearing the ACL in his right knee late last season, posted the Flames' first shutout of the season. He wasn't terribly tested, as Liberty outshot Towson 55-11, but he did make a handful of tough glove saves.
"Bennett played really well," Handy said. "He made a huge save in the second period, a big, big save for him to build confidence."
While LeBlanc was awarded a puck for netting his hat trick, Bennett wore a special armed forces helmet as he received post-game treatment in Liberty's training room for being the Flames' hardest-working player.
"It was great to play and to get back on the ice and get in the swing of things," Bennett said. "I was a little nervous at the start, but just getting back out there and getting back into the groove was awesome."
Liberty did lose junior defenseman and assistant captain Matt Sherry, who suffered a lower leg injury when he crashed into the boards late in the first period.
"When Matt went out, the other guys stepped up and supported each other and still played solidly the whole game," Bennett said.
Handy said Sherry could be out for two to three weeks and the Flames would bring up Brandon Cox from the DII team to replace him for Liberty's trip to Ohio University next weekend.
"We're going to have to make an adjustment without Matt there," Handy said. "It's a loss (but) it's part of the game. We'll look for someone else to step in there."