Nov 17, 2009

Flames prove mettle in tight wins over Delaware

by Daniel Martinez

The Liberty University men’s hockey team headed into last weekend ranked third in the nation on several online polls. They were 14-0 and coming off a string of blowout wins. They had shown, weekend after weekend, an explosive, team-wide attack that made quick work of opponents.

But the Flames were put to the test Friday, Nov. 13 and Saturday, Nov. 14, facing a rough, fast-moving opponent — the University of Delaware. Facing more adversity than usual, the Flames upped their game, throwing superb blocking and fast, timely shooting together en route to victories of 4-0 and 4-1.

Friday night, the LaHaye Ice Center was packed to capacity with fans armed with blue thundersticks, ready to support their Flames as loudly as possible. But, early on, the visiting Fightin’ Blue Hens played every bit as well as – if not better than – the boys in red, white and blue. The fast-moving Hens played the Flames’ offensive attack well, intercepting passes, blocking shots and stopping rallies cold.

“We weren’t ready for their speed at first,” sophomore defenseman Mackenzie Bauman said. “They were getting the puck deep, fore-checking hard. They were pressing us.”

As the first period became the second and neither team scored, the tension mounted. Every time the puck crossed the centerline, nearing a goal, the crowd tensed, sticks flew and the defense closed up — neither side wanted to break.

But with just over half the game completed, one of the scoreboard’s zeroes became a one. The Ice Center crowd jumped to its feet with a huge collective roar of relief as the Flames jumped into a celebratory huddle at the far end of the ice. The lead was theirs.

“I just skated to the net and [junior forward Jonathan] Chung put it right on my stick,” junior forward Adam Docksteader said of that first — and eventual game-winning — goal. “I just tried to keep my stick on the ice and put it in the empty net.”

His goals made a tremendous difference.

“It changes the atmosphere a ton,” junior forward Eric Reynolds said of the one-point lead. “The fans start going, we start going, and the momentum shifts.”

Docksteader’s goal would be enough for the Flames to use their new confidence as an energy booster, putting more pressure on Delaware’s half of the ice and scoring three more goals over the final period-and-a-half, leading to the 4-0 win.

“They were going hard all the time,” junior goalie Brad
Whittingstall said. “We just took it to them — made it look easy.”

Whittingstall himself had a hand in the victory, blocking dozens of Delaware shots with his arms, legs and body en route to
his first career shutout.

“He’s unreal,” Reynolds said. “He’s got great angles, he’s calm and he’s
there when we need him.”

Added Reynolds jokingly: “he just stands on his head.”

With the Flames having proved their worth in one of their most competitive contests of their season, it seemed impossible that they would be put in an even tighter spot the following night. Incredibly, it happened, as the first period again ended with zeroes on the scoreboard before Delaware forward Rocky Romanella knocked one past sophomore goalie Matt Pedersen six minutes into the second period to give
the visitors a 1-0 lead.

The deficit came as something of a surprise to the Flames — particularly since they were more prepared for the Hens’ fast, rough style of play than they were Friday night — but
they didn’t fall apart.

“We’ve got a lot of depth,” senior forward and team captain Zac Bauman said.

Just minutes after Delaware celebrated its first goal of the weekend, senior forward Kyle Dodgson raced down the ice, keeping his eyes glued on the puck and the teammate in possession, junior defenseman Mike Morrison. The two made eye contact as they neared the goal, and, when Delaware’s defenders broke toward Morrison, he zipped a pass to his open teammate.

“I tried to tip it in. It hit my stick and went in,” Dodgson said. The score was tied.

With less than four minutes left in the second period, Docksteader slapped the puck past the Delaware goalie, giving the Flames a 2-1 lead. They would score twice more in the final period — and play superb, shutdown defense — to come to the final score of 4-1, their 16th straight victory to start the 2009-2010 season.

“Our lines just seem to be rolling right now,” Head Coach Kirk Handy said.

The Flames play the next three games in three days on the road (Nov. 20 and 21 at Oakland University, Nov. 22 at Davenport University) and play
Virginia Tech at home Dec. 4.

Contact Daniel Martinez at
dpmartinez@liberty.edu.
 


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