Resilient Flames sweep Wildcats in penalty-plagued rematch
January 18, 2014 | Tucson, Ariz.
How a player or a team responds to adversity or a setback is a better test of fortitude and revelation of character than how they handle prosperity or a victory.
After starting the new year with a loss at Stony Brook, and their longest road trip of the year this weekend with an agonizing overtime defeat at Arizona State University, Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team retaliated with impressive road wins over the Seawolves, Jan. 12 on Long Island, N.Y., and Arizona, Friday and Saturday at the Tucson Convention Center.
|Members of the Flames celebrate a goal against Arizona in last season's meeting at the LaHaye Ice Center.|
On Saturday night, playing in front of a vocal crowd in support of the 13th-ranked Wildcats, the No. 4 Flames overcame two early deficits and numerous penalties to complete a two-game sweep with a narrow 4-3 triumph.
"It was a good crowd and they were into the game," Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. "It was a fun environment to be involved in. That's a tough place to play."
Arizona (12-17) seized 1-0 and 2-1 leads on power-play goals early in the first and second periods before Liberty (23-5) responded to tie it up both times soon thereafter, showing excellent stamina and unstoppable determination.
Junior forward Lindsay LeBlanc netted the first equalizer off assists from junior forward Ryley Egan and senior forward Andrew McCombe. He finished it with a beautiful, sweeping shot as he pivoted between the circles after sophomore forward DJ Dinnison drew a penalty, putting the Flames on the power play.
Egan knotted it at 2-2 early in the second period off assists from sophomore defenseman Steven Bellew and LeBlanc. With Liberty on a five-on-three man advantage, sophomore forward Bram Erickson netted the go-ahead goal off assists from Bellew and freshman forward Brandon Mistal, giving the Flames a 3-2 lead late in the second period, before LeBlanc capped Liberty's scoring off an assist from senior defenseman Jackson Kuhn.
Arizona cut the lead back to one goal on a shot by senior defenseman Michael Basist, assisted by freshman forward Robert Wilkinson, with 12 minutes remaining in regulation.
Though their lines were depleted by penalties, the Wildcats managed to mount a few more major offensives in the closing minutes, including two furious charges in the final seconds.
"It was a bit of a mad scramble around the net and we were able to keep the puck out of the net," Handy said. "The third period tonight, we didn't play as well as we wanted. But overall, we came out here and played solid hockey and found a way to win."
Arizona outshot the Flames 47-39 for the game with freshman goalie Matt Pinel making 44 saves.
"Matt Pinel had a huge game for us," Handy said. "He stood on his head most of the night for us."
Pinel had more than sufficient support in front of him, as the Flames got plenty of practice on special teams.
"(Christian) Garland and (Ryan) Kerr and (Tyson) Street and Mistal and Kuhn, (Cam) Bakker, and Grow worked especially hard on the penalty kill," Handy said.
The extra effort paid tremendous dividends as the Flames wound up 2-1 on their second-to-last road trip of the season.
"To travel here and play three games in three days coming off the series at Stony Brook, we're proud of the road trip and the success of it," Handy said. "We're going to get back home, have a good week of practice, and prepare for Arizona State on Friday night."
The Flames get their first chance to host the Sun Devils, the No. 1 team in the ACHA DI rankings, next Friday and Saturday at the LaHaye Ice Center after losing single games the past three seasons in Tempe, Ariz., two by shootout and one in overtime.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer