Flames heat up late, score three third-period goals on Eagles
November 1, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
After trading power-play goals with Eastern Michigan University in the first two periods, Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center, Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team started the third with renewed intensity.
Playing in front of a charged-up Fall Family Weekend crowd, the Flames (13-1) scored twice in the first five minutes before adding a third power-play goal late to pull away for a 4-1 win in the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
As it had in last weekend's series against Division I newcomer Rochester College, Liberty, which bumped up to No. 6 in this week's ACHA DI national rankings, got a fierce challenge from the unranked Eagles (6-8).
"It was kind of a scrambled first and second period, back and forth," Flames head coach Kirk Handy said. "They're a good team. They're going to work hard. We, again, have to outwork them and be ready to go in the first period. We don't want to keep waiting until the third period. We've got to figure out a way to get going in the first."
The run of play swung both ways early on before Liberty capitalized on the game's first power-play to break the scoring ice at the 9:23 mark. The Flames worked the puck around the perimeter until Danny Logan sent a short pass from the back left corner to senior defenseman Jackson Kuhn in the left crease, where he converted a quick putaway.
But Eastern Michigan tied it at 1-1 on a five-on-three power play with 4:24 left in the second period. Eagles defender Jordan Roemer put away Bobby Gasser's pass across the cage inside the right post before Liberty goalie Blair Bennett could get a mitt on it.
Three of the five goals on the night were scored on a power play, with Bennett making several key shorthanded saves.
"We have to go back to playing five-on-five hockey," Handy said. "Our team wants to play five-on-five, but unfortunately, we didn't play a lot of it tonight. We just want to play Liberty hockey and we've got four lines that can do it. On a night like tonight, though, it was hard to get all four lines going, because we're playing a lot of special teams — power play, penalty kill. There wasn't a lot of flow tonight for that."
However, with their backs against the boards, locked in a 1-1 tie, the Flames dominated the third period. A minute and a half into the action, senior forward and team captain Andrew McCombe took a short pass from junior forward Ryley Egan and sent a feed into freshman forward Robert Ward, posting up in front of Eastern Michigan goalie Andrew Duff. Ward trapped the pass with his back to the goal before flicking the puck backhanded to Cam Bakker in an open left crease for the point-blank finish.
"That was a great play, a beauty," Handy said.
Three minutes later, Bakker took a shot on goal from the top of the left circle and freshman forward Brandon Mistal redirected the puck under Duff into the net for a 3-1 advantage with 15:11 remaining.
Liberty iced the win with a third goal in the final three minutes of the period, its second of the night on a power play. Ward sent a nice cross-ice pass to Egan in the right circle, where he launched a sliding wrist shot into the upper netting.
"We worked on the power play this week in practice and to get two power-play goals, that's big for us tonight, something to build on," Handy said.
Liberty outshot EMU 36-28 for the game, with Bennett making 27 saves. The two teams combined for 27 penalties, 14 by the home team.
Handy hopes the Flames can put the Eagles away more quickly when they meet again Saturday at LaHaye, soon after the puck drops at 7 p.m.
"We're going to have to work harder (Saturday night)," he said. "It's a big focus for us to not dwell on tonight, realize we played well in the third. We've got to play well to start the game."