Top teams split weekend matchup

Flames avoid sweep with strong showing in game two against Florida Gulf Coast in a key conference contest

puck control — Brad Docksteader pushes the puck up the ice agaisnt Flordia Gulf Coast. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

Puck control — Brad Docksteader pushes the puck up the ice agaisnt Flordia Gulf Coast. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

The Liberty Flames men’s Division II (DII) hockey team (22-6-0) split a weekend series with Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) Eagles (19-2-1) Friday and Saturday, Jan. 17-18.

FGCU 8, LU 1
It was a rough night on the ice as Liberty fell to FGCU 8-1 at home Friday, Jan.17.

FGCU and Liberty occupy the first and fifth slots, respectively, in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Southeast region standings, with the Eagles also ranked nationally.
The game marked the third matchup between the schools this season. In late October, the Flames traveled to Fort Meyers for a two-game series, losing the first 5-3 and the second 7-3.

Despite previous experiences against the Eagles and the support of a home crowd, the Flames struggled throughout the game, especially on defense. At the end of the night, the Flames had only 16 shots on goal to the Eagles 40.

Junior defenseman Clinton Nigh scored Liberty’s only goal on a power play at the 10:18 mark in the third period, putting the puck in the back of the net with assists from Brad and Devon Docksteader.

“I’ve got to hand it to Florida Gulf Coast,” Assistant Coach Mike Morrison said. “They did a great job tonight. They have a team that is skilled from top to bottom, and their coaching staff was obviously prepared for tonight.”

Head Coach Chris Lowes agreed with Morrison’s comments and said he wants his players to perform better in competitive matchups.

“They really outperformed us in all areas — effort, execution, discipline — and it was reflected on the scoreboard,” Lowes said. “You can’t afford to make any mistakes playing a team of this caliber, and tonight it really showed.”

A goalie change late in the second period seemed to give the Flames a brief burst of energy.

“It was about maintenance for Cary (Byron),” Lowes said. “He was one of the few guys that looked ready to play. … We knew right away when we switched that we’d be coming back to him Saturday, so it was about giving him some time to get his head right and get focused.”

With the second game of the series just hours away, Liberty coaching staff focused on the immediate takeaway for their players.

“(We focused on) mindset and preparation,” Lowes said. “We try to preach playing (hard) every game (and) getting in that playoff mindset that we’ll need at the end of the year when it’s win or go home. We didn’t have that tonight.”

With that in mind, the Flames geared up to put the loss behind them and focus on a Saturday comeback.

LU 8, FGCU 5
The Flames hockey team bounced back from an ugly loss to defeat the Eagles 8-5 in the second matchup of a two-game series Saturday, Jan. 18 at LaHaye Ice

The game marked the fourth meeting between the two teams and Liberty’s first win against top-ranked FGCU. Despite suffering their worst loss against the Eagles to date not 24 hours before, the Flames hit the ice in full attack mode.

The Flames’ frontline wasted no time generating offense as freshman forward Devon Docksteader found the back of the net twice in the first period, accompanied by goals for fellow forward and older brother Brad Docksteader and sophomore forward Paul Ingles. Devon Docksteader added a third goal for the hat trick after the intermission, with sophomore forward Eric Burke adding a goal of his own to put the Flames up 6-1 at the end of the second.

With a five-goal cushion heading into the final period, Liberty allowed FGCU to gain momentum. Starting with a goal just minutes into the third, the Eagles cut the deficit to a mere point before the Flames rallied to take back control of the puck. Brad and Devon Docksteader each put up another point on the board to seal the Liberty victory.

“There was just a completely different energy level (tonight),” Lowes said. “We could see it from the first shift, and even felt it in warmup. The guys just had a different pace. I can’t explain why it wasn’t that way during the Friday night game, but we (played) at a whole different level.”

The Flames will next face the No. 10 Delaware Blue Hens at the LaHaye Ice Center Friday, Jan. 24 at 9:30 p.m.

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