Oct 27, 2009

Flames trump Towson

by Daniel Martinez

High scoring hockey games are not common sights. Hockey is such a rough-and-tumble, team-oriented, contact-heavy sport that it is downright rare, in some circles, to see what one might call a blowout.

The LaHaye Ice Center is not one of those circles.
Liberty University’s 24-man Division I squad put the “ow” in Towson University this past weekend, torching the Tigers 10-1 Friday night and 12-2 Saturday night. Heading into an off weekend, the undefeated Flames have outscored opponents 67-12 in six games over the past three weekends at the LaHaye Ice Center.

“We can roll all four lines at any time and compete with anybody in the league right now,” senior team captain Zac Bauman said of the Flames’ torrid pace.

It is rare, however, for Liberty hockey — even Division-I games — to be televised. Friday, Oct. 23, a Flames Television Network television crew was on hand, broadcasting a game for the second time in school history. Sensing the milestone, red-clad students packed the Ice Center, chanting, stomping and pounding hundreds of white thundersticks.

“It’s definitely encouraging — knowing that you have support [like that],” sophomore forward Joe Smith said of the crowd. “It’s more of an influence on the visiting team, I’m sure it’s gotten in their heads.”

It was Smith who gave the fans a reason to scream and get into Towson’s collective head with two goals three minutes into the game, lightening the suspense of a tight defensive contest. As the crowd roared, and Liberty suffocated the Tigers’ attack, three more Flames scored before the first period was over.

In front 5-1, and supported by the substantial crowd, the Flames cruised the rest of the way, adding five more scores versus none by the opposition. The Tigers tried to break through Liberty’s lines and make it a closer contest, but they were stopped cold by junior goalie Brad Whittingstall.

“[He didn’t get] a ton of shots, but he came up big when we needed him,” Bauman said. “The one goal they did get in, I think they made four or five shots before they [even] scored.”

With six different players scoring the 10 goals, the Flames continued their trend of sending a team-wide attack at the opposition.

“We like the way we’re playing. We see guys contributing up and down the lineup,” Head Coach Kirk Handy said of a game that, due to various injuries and ejections, saw some offensive players on defense for most of the 60 minutes.

“It’s a good feeling. But we know the most important game is the next game we play.”

With that mindset, the Flames threw themselves into Saturday night’s rematch with the Tigers, and again they overwhelmed the visitors from Maryland.

For 12-and-a-half minutes the Tigers managed to keep Liberty scoreless, but the Flames broke away by reverting to some of their most practiced, eye-popping trick plays.

At one point, amidst the flailing bodies and slashing sticks, freshman forward Greg Jensen barreled toward the Towson goal with several opposing defenders in tow. As the Tigers goalie turned to face him, preparing himself for a frontal attack, Jensen zipped the puck to the right, and junior forward Eric Reynolds came flying in, breaking the scoreless tie with a laser-like shot from the back end, directly behind the stunned goalie.

The Flames did it again less than a minute later. Junior forward Jonathan Chung charged the goal and shot a quick, last-second pass to fellow junior forward Adam Docksteader, who, with a quick swing, doubled the Flames lead at 2-0. And just three minutes later, Chung found himself on the other end, batting the puck into the net after a midair shuffle pass from senior defenseman Dave Semenyna.

“We just know where each other are,” Chung said of the Flames power plays. “We just give each other the puck and tic-tac-toe, it goes in.”

With the lead in hand and the crowd firmly backing them, the Flames rolled the rest of the way, scoring three in the second period and piling on for six in the third. Towson managed a pair of late scores, but for the most part, the Tigers spent the rest of their weekend visit to Lynchburg frantically swirling around their goal, trying helplessly to get something started.

“[We were] playing really well in their zone, throwing the body a lot, getting pucks in the net,” Jensen said.

The Flames take a break next weekend before taking on Stony Brook University, on Nov. 6-7. Undefeated, the Flames are creeping ever closer to what Handy called their goal — winning a national championship.

Contact Daniel Martinez at dpmartinez@liberty.edu.

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