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The Liberty Flames men’s Division I hockey team split a weekend series with the University of Arizona Wildcats at the LaHaye Ice Center, October 11 and 12.
Arizona 5, LU 1 Despite outshooting the Wildcats, the Flames could not hold off the fellow American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) top-25 team, conceding the game, 5-1, Friday, Oct. 11.
With the victory, the 19th-ranked Wildcats handed the No. 10 Flames their first defeat of the season.
“It’s definitely tough to lose our first game of the season, but with this loss, we take lessons from the game with us and use them to further develop our skills overall,” Flames freshman forward Charles Williams said.
Halfway through the first period, Arizona’s Andrew Mrumes scored the Wildcats first goal on a power play. The Flames quickly responded with a goal from Williams on assists from senior defensemen Jackson Kuhn and sophomore forward Bram Erickson.
The Flames fell behind when Arizona’s Ansel Ivens-Anderson managed an assisted goal from Michael Ferreira to finish out the first period with a 2-1 lead. Liberty could not seem to gain speed through the neutral zone and struggled to score throughout the rest of the game.
“We definitely needed to tighten up defensively and move the puck quicker to get a transition on Arizona’s forecheck,” junior defenseman Cam Bakker said. “When we get shots, we need to shoot to score, capitalizing on our opportunities.”
The Wildcats managed to add two additional goals by the end of the second period, giving them a 4-1 advantage going into the third period.
“The team worked to keep a positive energy on the ice, but we struggled because we weren’t getting the bounces we needed and came out flat,” Williams said.
Overall, the Flames outshot the Wildcats 38-28, but Arizona goaltender Steven Sisler made 37 saves against the Flames.
LU 5, Arizona 2 Less than 24 hours after suffering its first loss of the season, the men’s hockey team looked to be doomed to a similar fate Saturday night, allowing Arizona to score a power-play goal to go up 1-0 less than two minutes into the game.
However, from then on, it was all Liberty. The Flames won the contest in a resounding 5-2 victory. The Flames counted on balanced scoring, as five different players contributed with five goals. Lindsey LeBlanc and Caleb Grow led the team with two assists each.
After a one-sided start, the course of the game was reversed when team captain McCombe buried a shot from a LeBlanc pass to tie the game at 1-1.
“As a captain, you want to lead by example,” McCombe said. “It’s nice when you can go out there and put one in and get the guys going. It was a great play by LeBlanc.”
Arizona allowed Liberty to take the lead at the 15:11 mark in the second period, as Erickson sneaked a backhander past Wildcats goalie Sisler. Later in the second, assistant captain Kuhn took a pass from LeBlanc and put it past Sisler to give the Flames a 3-1 advantage.
The Wildcats scared the Flames early in the third as Murmes notched his second power-play goal of the game just a minute into the period. Only 20 seconds later, the Wildcats had a five-on-three power-play when Flames goalie Blair Bennett cleared a pass over the glass.
The Wildcats could not convert on a 1:40 two-man advantage, missing a chance to capitalize on an exposed net. Bennett also made several gritty saves, turning away 26 of 28 shots in the game.
“(Bennett) kept us in the game. He’s been strong for us for three years, so it was nice to see him play so well,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said.
The Flames gave themselves some breathing room with 13:32 to go in the period on a power-play goal. Ryley Egan took a centering pass from forward Robert Ward and zipped it into the back of the net. Williams sealed the game with just under four minutes left, scoring a goal to give the Flames a 5-2 win.
The Flames will host the 12th-ranked Davenport Panthers Oct. 18 and 19 and will travel to Tucson, Arizona for a rematch with the Wildcats later this season.