Liberty University’s D1 hockey team was defeated 6-3 at the LaHaye Ice Center, Friday, Oct. 19 against the Davenport University Panthers.
“It was a little frustrating just ‘cause our shots weren’t going anywhere or actually getting where they were supposed to, so that made it a little tough,” Liberty freshman B.J. Pirus said. “We battled well. We just needed to execute better.”
The Panthers scored a goal within the first six minutes of the game. Pirus was the first to score for the Flames, making it 1-1 at the end of first period.
The Panther’s three-goal effort in the second period pushed their lead to 4-1 with four minutes left in the period. But senior Rick Turner scored his 19th goal of the season, ending the period with a score of 4-2. Turner leads the nation in scoring.
At the start of the third period, the Panthers scored again to increase their lead to three. Flames freshman Steven Bellew responded for the Flames, adding another goal, which cut the Panthers lead to two.
The Panthers scored one last goal in the last minute of the third period into an empty net, ending the game with Davenport on top, 6-3.
The Flames resurgence was just not enough in the end.
“It started out a little slow and picked up the intensity when the fights broke out, but unfortunately we just couldn’t get the job done tonight,” senior Scott Morongell said.
According to the American Collegiate Hockey Association, the Liberty Flames are ranked No. 8, along with Lindenwood University.
“The season’s going pretty well,” Pirus said. “We’re in a bit of a rut right now, and it’s always tough to get out of those. We played some really good teams, and unfortunately we just couldn’t finish.”
Seeking retribution after a hard loss in the first game of the Blue and Grey Cup, the Liberty Flames battled the Davenport Panthers again Saturday, Oct. 20 in the LaHaye Ice Center. This time, Liberty came from behind to tie the game but ultimately lost 6-5 in a shoot out. After starting 8-0 this season, the Flames have lost five straight.
The fans’ intensity was apparent from the beginning as Rich Turner put in the first goal of the night and his 20th of the season.
“Our home crowd is great. They really re-energize our guys,” Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “We started out well — scored one, and then gave up four, so that didn’t help. But we battled back, and the crowd was there to give us the energy that we needed.”
Liberty’s lead was short-lived. Dustin Wischmeyer responded for Davenport, scoring on a breakaway and tying the game at the end of the first period.
Early in the second period, Davenport’s Robert Kleinman and Stephan Flood each scored to take their lead to 3-1. The Flames were finally able to answer back when Luke Baumgarten knocked in a loose puck with 36 seconds left in the second period.
Liberty struggled offensively for the first 15 minutes of the third, but with five minutes left, team captain Andrew McCombe scored to bring the Flames within one goal.
Thirty seconds later, Liberty’s Christian Garland found the back of the net to tie the game at four. But Davenport swiftly answered to retake the lead with Bohlinger putting in his second goal of the night to take the 5-4 lead.
With one minute left in regulation, the Flames pulled Blair Bennett from the goal and made one last offensive effort. The gamble paid off when McCombe tied the game with only 12 seconds remaining.
The game then moved into “golden goal” overtime, but neither team was able to end it during those five minutes. It was clear that a shoot out was necessary to decide the winner.
Andrew Frank scored Davenport’s first shot, giving them a 6-5 lead, but Liberty’s Danny Logan quickly smoothed over the difference. Neither team could connect in round two. In round three, Kleiman put in the deciding goal for Davenport, and Turner shot high and missed for Liberty.
“There are a lot of things that we’re going to work on,” Handy said. “A lot of it stems from us taking on too many penalties. The encouraging thing is what we did in the third period. The fortitude that we had and the desire to come back to make a game of it and give ourselves a chance to win in a game that we had no right coming back in — that’s character, and stuff that we can build on.”
With all sports, coaches are charged with helping losing teams have a short memory — something essential to moving forward.
“We want to be positive with our guys and have our guys realize that we can win hockey games,” Handy said. “We are in a tough stretch, and we knew that. We have to come ready to play next week.”
It is hard for any team to move on from a hard loss, but McCombe is not wasting any time hanging his head.
“It was a character comeback. After this, we will have a good week of practice and then face probably the No. 1 team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association when Ohio University comes in next weekend,” McCombe said. “We just have to chalk it up as a learning experience and go to work this week to hopefully come out on top next weekend.”