Nov 10, 2009

Flames remain undefeated, outscore Stony Brook 13-2

by Daniel Martinez

Stony Brook University had its chances.

More than once, a red-shirted player took possession of the puck deep in his own territory and sliced his way up the ice. Whenever a Liberty University player came near, he simply sped up, swerved, or made a lightning-quick pass to a nearby teammate. The Seawolves raced toward the Liberty goal and prepared to take a shot at beginning their eye-opening comeback.

But it never happened. Once they got deep enough into Liberty territory, the fast-moving Seawolves were stopped cold by the
Flames stellar man-to-man defense. Even if Stony Brook somehow penetrated those lines, there was always a goalie left to try and fool.

Such stifling defense helped the Flames stay undefeated despite some stiff competition after a week off, improving the team’s record to 14-0 on the season. In two tense, fast-moving games, the Flames beat the visitors from New York, 6-2 and 7-0.

“We buried our chances (when shooting on goal), we didn’t get caught up in head games — as far as trying to be chippy — and we played real good defensive zone coverage,” sophomore defenseman Hunter Tweed said.

It started on Friday night, with the LaHaye Ice Center filled to the brim with students and College for a Weekend visitors. The first puck dropped at 7:30 p.m., and those familiar with Liberty hockey were treated to something special — a real duel. The Flames’ blistering offense was held down for more than 12 minutes in a game of intercepted passes, goalie saves, blocked shots, steals and double-teams.
A fan base accustomed to the scoring of goals in earlier season blowouts against teams like Penn State Berks and Towson University went wild when team captain Zac Bauman, a senior forward, broke away from the pack and blew a shot past the Seawolves goalie, a shot that he called, “lucky.”

The first period ended with the Flames clinging to the 1-0 lead thanks to their superb defense. Yet the Seawolves had nearly matched the Flames block for block.

“Stony Brook was battling,” Coach Kirk Handy said. “I think they were doing a pretty good job when we were putting pressure on them.”

Seventy-five seconds into the second period, junior forward Stephen Moller scored for the Flames, and he was followed, in the next five minutes, by a parade of his teammates. Senior forward Kyle Dodgson, Bauman, and freshman forward Brent Boschman both knocked the puck past Stony Brook’s goalie, building a comfortable 5-0 cushion by the end of the period.

“We just came out with that fire we’ve had all year,” Bauman said of the outbreak. “We know we’re a better team than them, and we played to our potential in the first half of that second period, and it showed.”

It turned out to be enough to put the game out of reach. Dodgson added a goal just 21 seconds into the final period, and the Flames took Friday night 6-2.

“We got the puck out quick, didn’t tire out, got the whistles we needed and the defense didn’t tire out,” junior goalie Brad Whittingstall.

The next day, at an unusual 4 p.m. start time, the Flames came back against the Seawolves, who were looking to keep it close and not repeat the previous night’s mistakes.

“They’re not a bad team,” Moller said. “They came in here and played pretty strong. They played pretty well defensively, we just didn’t give them any opportunities.”

That was precisely the secret to Saturday night’s game, as the Flames pitched a shutout to remain undefeated.

Stony Brook played hard. Their pass defense, man-to-man coverage and solid goaltending repeatedly matched the Flames’ fast-break offensive attack. Whenever they slipped up, however, Liberty made them pay.

“I feel like we get better every game,” junior forward Adam Docksteader said.

Docksteader had a hand in the Flames’ first goal of the second game, charging the net and blasting a shot Stony Brook’s goalie deflected, but the goalie didn’t turn quickly enough to block again. Bauman smacked the ricochet past him, giving the Flames an early 1-0 lead just 90 seconds into the contest. It was all downhill from there as Bauman and three other players scored six more goals over the next three periods, while the defense proved to be impenetrable.

“We just tried to clog up the neutral zone, take passing lanes away from them, and not let them have any opportunities,” Moller said.

“Overall, the effort’s there, and the consistency of play is at the level we’re looking for,” Handy said. “It’s not quite where we want it to be at the end of the year, but it’s headed in the right direction.”

The Flames will host the University of Delaware this weekend (Nov. 13 and 14) inside the LaHaye Ice Center.

Contact Daniel Martinez at dpmartinez@liberty.edu.


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