Club Sports News

Shorthanded Flames leave Panthers on short end of stick

October 18, 2013  |  Lynchburg, Va. 

Flames forward DJ Dinnison splits teammates Robert Ward (26) and Brandon Mistal (89) in pursuit of the puck. He scored Liberty's second goal, which stood up as the game-winner, in Friday's 2-1 triumph over visiting Davenport.

Playing without injured junior defenseman Matt Sherry and suspended junior forward Lindsay LeBlanc, Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team was missing its top two enforcers on both ends of the ice. So the Flames had to fall back on their own version of "The Dominator," senior goalie Blair Bennett, to secure its 2-1 victory over Davenport University, Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center.

Bennett, who recovered from ACL surgery over the summer, was taken out twice on hits that resulted in five-minute penalties, but bounced back up to make 28 saves in the first game of the second annual Blue and Gray Cup between the Flames and Panthers. He allowed just one goal for his third straight appearance this season, after posting a shutout in his first.

"Blair played a great game tonight, stood on his head," Liberty head coach Kirk Handy said. "That's the type of goaltending Blair's given us for four years now and in the big games, Blair's there."

In an extremely balanced contest, both teams took 29 shots on goal.

The Flames (9-1) finally broke the scoring ice 15 minutes into the action when Ryley Egan followed up a breakaway opportunity by senior captain Andrew McCombe that deflected off the left pipe. The junior forward barely pushed the puck across the plane of the goal as Davenport netminder Phil Graveline (27 saves) tried to clear it with his feet and stick. After the cage was jarred loose as players crashed into the keeper, it was ruled a goal, lifting Liberty to a 1-0 lead with 4:59 left in the first period.

Moments later, Bennett blocked a Panthers shot and swept the loose puck off the goal line with his glove, narrowly averting a similar score.

The Flames generated several quality scoring chances in the second period, but were unable to capitalize until they converted on a counterattack at the 5:49 mark. Seconds after Bennett made a diving kick save of a Panthers' shot toward the lower left post, freshman forward Robert Ward sent a short pass to DJ Dinnison at the top of the left circle, where he ripped a wrist shot past Graveline top shelf.

"That's kind of how it happens sometimes," Dinnison said. "Big save on the other end, you go back the other way and sometimes you put in a goal. That was a huge momentum swing for us and probably a confidence booster for our goalie, too. He stood on his head tonight and that was what won us the game. He made a lot of big saves. Blair played a great game, you've got to give him credit for that one."

Freshman forward Brandon Mistal was issued a two-minute penalty for roughing when he shoved Graveline into the post immediately after Dinnison's goal and moments later, the Panthers appeared to retaliate on a two-on-one break the other way. Senior defenseman Bo Jacobs had his point-blank shot blocked by Bennett and kept going, elbowing the Flames' keeper into the right pipe with a check that warranted a five-minute penalty.

"It was a rough game for sure," Bennett said. "Guys were running into me all over the place it seemed. I don't know if it was retaliation, but they came after me. I just had to stay focused and keep playing hard. All the guys played well. The defense helped me out a few times, and I made the saves when I had to."

However, Liberty senior defenseman Jackson Kuhn and sophomore defenseman Brandon Cox both picked up roughing penalties within 10 seconds of one another, Kuhn for wrestling Jacobs down behind the goal. The end result was Davenport being awarded a four-on-three power play.

The Panthers quickly cashed in on the man advantage, with sophomore wing Luke McCarthy putting away an assist from behind the right side of the goal from junior forward Robert Kleiman to pull the Panthers within 2-1 with 3:08 to go in the second period.

"It was a tough night all over," Handy said. "We had a short bench. It was kind of a scrambling night, but our guys stuck to it and we're proud of the effort. It was different players playing different roles, which was exciting to see."

Former Liberty players line up on a red carpet on the ice during the first intermission, Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center, as Flames fans look down from the second deck.

The game was played before a homecoming crowd that included several former players, many of whom suited up for an alumni contest that followed the main event.

The Flames will be back closer to full strength for Saturday's 7 p.m. rematch when they will look to clinch the Blue and Gray Cup as Davenport did last year by sweeping Liberty at LaHaye. 

"This is two good teams playing hard," Handy said. "It was a good, hard hockey game. These are games you want to win. Our guys battled hard. We always know Davenport's going to be a great rivalry for us and one that we work hard to make sure on both ends it's going to be a good game."

View live coverage on the Liberty Flames Sports Network.


By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

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