ASU Sun Devils proved too much to handle in a hard-fought weekend series
Arizona State 5, Liberty 2
Liberty University’s men’s Division 1 (DI) Hockey team fell to Arizona State University (ASU) Friday, Jan. 24, losing 5-2 in round one of the two-game matchup at the LaHaye Ice Center. This was their second loss this season against the No. 1 Arizona Sun Devils.
The series began with a 3-2 loss after an overtime goal from ASU forward Ryan Ostertag gave the Sun Devils the victory last Thursday, Jan. 16. The Flames recovered by winning back-to-back games in the three-game matchup against the Sun Devils last week in Tempe, Ariz.
After rising to No.3 in the ACHA D1 ranking, the Flames took the ice with high expectations. The first period began with a slow start, as the Flames missed opportunities to capitalize and dominate the game early.
With only 5:57 remaining in the first, ASU defenseman Drew Newmeyer netted the first goal of the game, giving the Sun Devils the lead. Shortly after, the Sun Devils scored their second goal on a power play.
This was the first of many power plays that contributed to ASU’s victory over the Flames.
“We gave them too many chances on the power play, and that’s not a recipe for success,” Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “(Penalties) are very tough, because you have guys sitting there for very long periods of time and we have to get away from that. We’re relying on four forwards to be playing instead of 13 forwards, which we have. You definitely have to stay out of the box. Otherwise, only a certain percentage of your guys play.”
The Flames came back hungry at the start of the second period. Four minutes into the period, freshman forward Robert Ward won the faceoff and blasted Robert Ward won the faceoff and blasted a goal past Arizona goalie Joe D’Elia.
With roughly 2,000 fans packed into the LaHaye Ice Center, the crowd exploded as Ward put the Flames on the board for the first time that night.
But the crowd was quickly silenced seconds later when the Sun Devils scored on a breakaway goal, putting Liberty back at a two-goal deficit. The Sun Devils later advanced to a 4-1 lead when Ostertag put another goal past Liberty goalie Blair Bennett.
Six minutes into the third period, ASU freshman forward Michael Cummings scored his first shot of the night. Frustration filled the arena as penalties against the Flames piled up when players dropped their gloves.
“(Penalties are) a really tough thing for us,” Liberty captain and senior defenseman Jackson Kuhn said. “Our penalty kill is great, but you give teams enough chances like that, and it turns the tide.”
With only 4:54 left in the game, Liberty sophomore forward Peter Kazmierczak, a DII call up, tipped in his first goal of the season, taking the Flames to a final score of 5-2.
Arizona State 6, Liberty 2
In the second game between No. 1 ASU and No. 3 Liberty, the Flames suffered their sixth consecutive defeat to the Sun Devils, 6-2, Saturday, Jan. 26 at the LaHaye Ice Center.
“We felt good coming into today’s game,” Liberty captain Andrew McCombe said. “We know we’re a good team, and we know we have to stay out of the penalty box to be successful.”
In a back-and-forth opening to the game, Cummings struck first for the Sun Devils with a goal at the 17:01 mark in the first period.
Liberty then received two penalties, and ASU capitalized with two power-play goals. After the scores, the Sun Devils finished the first period with a 3-0 lead.
“Five on five, we played very well,” Handy said in an article on Liberty’s Club Sports Website. “But we were very undisciplined tonight, and they were able to score three goals on power plays, which pretty much was the difference maker.”
To start the second period, the Flames turned up the pressure on ASU, resulting in multiple shots on goal and finally capitalized with a goal from Ward, assisted by Ryley Egan and Kuhn, at the 11:22 mark.
The Sun Devils quickly halted the Flames momentum, scoring just 56 seconds later to regain the three-goal lead.
In an attempt to change the outlook of the game, Ward added his second goal on the night, but ASU answered yet again with its third power play goal of the night. The ASU score put the Sun Devils up 5-2 at the end of the second period.
Despite the setbacks to the top-ranked Sun Devils, Handy still maintained a positive attitude.
“What we need to build toward is to work on a championship discipline level,” Handy said. “We’re not there yet, but we didn’t lose the national championship this weekend. We’re going to continue to refine our game and continue to improve on our team.”
The Flames will return to action Friday, Jan. 31 as they travel to take on the No. 7 Delaware Blue Hens.