Dec 8, 2009

Flames rout rival Hokies, 9-0

by Daniel Martinez

It is somewhat hard to believe that the 18-2 Liberty University men’s Division I hockey team, currently ranked fourth in the nation, could have one of its biggest games of the year against a Division II team. But when the Virginia Tech Hokies made their way to the LaHaye Ice Center for an annual rivalry match Friday night, the atmosphere was befitting a championship match.

Seats were a prized commodity in the Ice Center on the night of Dec. 4, with scores of maroon-and-orange-clad fans in attendance, having made the 90-mile trip from Blacksburg to see their boys play the Flames. And no one was throwing up their hands in surrender.

The Hokies never did give up, but the Flames played faster and harder, burying their opponents under a barrage of high-pressure situations, overwhelming them in a convincing 9-0 win.

“It’s an annual thing we try to do once a year,” Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said of the one-game matchup with Tech. “It’s a good in-state rivalry, and we get a good crowd.”

That crowd was roaring from the first puck drop, and the Hokies put the “rival” in rivalry early with a solid first period showing. They skated with the Flames, intercepted passes, pulled off split-second steals and blocked repeated shots on goal.

“They were tenacious when they came out,” senior defenseman Mike Lane said of the early going. “They skated really hard and tried to finish their checks. They were really mentally prepared to play against us.”

But the Flames’ fast-break offense broke through. After more than fifteen minutes of scoreless play, freshman forward Greg Jensen wove through the swarming Hokies with the puck in his possession. The maroon and orange goalie turned to face him, preparing for another block, but Jensen shot a pass to the other side of the net, where junior forward Stephen Moller was waiting. The goalie barely had time to turn his head before it was 1-0.
“We stunned him a little bit,” Moller said.

There wouldn’t be a whole lot more stunning in this contest, if only because, from the start of the second period on, the puck was in Virginia Tech territory a vast majority of the time. The Flames applied the pressure, buckling down, and the Hokies started to give.

“We wore them down throughout the game,” Moller said. “They couldn’t really take the hitting. That’s where they slowed down.”
The constant hitting, shoving, colliding and stealing by the Flames backed the Hokies off, and by the time the third period started, it was 3-0, thanks to goals by junior forward Jonathan Chung and senior defenseman Dave Semenyna.

“We just out-worked them in their zone,” Semenyna said of the score, which kept inflating as the game went on. “We were getting all our pucks deep, and we were able to capitalize on opportunities.”

The third period was a rout, as the Flames scored six times, with Lane and Jensen each scoring once, and junior forward Adam Docksteader and Semenyna scoring twice. For Semenya, it completed a hat trick, his first of this season.

“I think they were all power play goals,” Semenyna said. “When we got the power play, we were moving the puck; I got the open slot a few times and buried a few pucks.”

When asked what changed from the tight early periods to the prolific scoring of the third, Handy said, “Our shots started to go in, we started to wear them down. That was the key for us: stick to our game plan, continue to do the things that are making us successful, and the goals will go in eventually.”

As in all their previous victories, the Flames had contributions from up and down the bench.

“We’re pretty deep,” Moller said. “Every line’s got their players, every line’s got their set-ups and every line’s got their goal-scorers.”

“I think it’s hard work and passing the puck around,” Lane said. “There’s a lot of support.”

The Flames have supported each other through what has been a monster season so far, but they will now have more than a month off before a re-match with Towson University on January 8-9. Liberty clobbered the Tigers when they visited last month, but will travel into Towson territory for the re-match. They bring an 18-2 record with them.

Contact Daniel Martinez at
dpmartinez@liberty.edu.
 


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