Panthers pull away from Flames in Blue & Gray Cup opener
November 17, 2016 | Grand Rapids, Mich.
Turnovers and missed opportunities kept Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team from staying within striking range of Davenport in Thursday night's opener of the Blue & Gray Cup, as the Panthers prevailed, 4-2,their fifth straight win over the 15th-ranked Flames (10-6), at the Patterson Ice Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.
"We had a good start to the game, but in the second period, we got away from our game plan a little bit," Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. "We had moments where we allowed them to dictate the play of the period and that sat us back on our heels."
Davenport center Chris Eckler put the No. 7 Panthers (13-1-1) on top early before Flames freshman forward Garrett Nelson netted the equalizer on a power play with just a minute remaining in the first period. He beat Davenport goalie Tanner Swift for his fifth goal of the season off assists from sophomore forward Owen Harris and freshman forward Marshal King.
"That was a fantastic move by Garrett off a real nice outlet pass from Owen Harris," Handy said.
Liberty senior goalie Matt Pinel kept the score tied by weathering a storm of pucks on net in the final 15 seconds of the period.
"Pinel played really well for us again tonight," Handy said. "He made some big saves."
Davenport outshot the Flames 48-27 for the game including 10-1 in the first 10 minutes of the second period, though the score remained tied at 1-1 until Aaron Bealy netted a sharp-angled shot from the left endline with 3:15 remaining in the stanza. Earlier, Panthers leading scorer Jordan Simmonds had his breakaway opportunity blocked by Pinel before fellow forward Jonathan Mencer stole the puck inside the Flames' blue line and had his quality shot denied. The Panthers nearly netted the go-ahead goal on a fast-break counterattack but the puck clanged off the post.
Moments after Liberty was unable to convert on a three-on-one fast break, Davenport's Alex Hulford received a delayed pass from Wade Weisgerber and finished a one-on-one with Pinel for his eighth goal of the year and a 3-1 Panthers' advantage less than a minute before the second intermission.
"We had our chances, a couple two-on-ones and opportunities where we broke in alone and were unable to capitalize," Handy said. "(On Friday), we will definitely have to correct that and be able to put some more goals in the back of the net. We turned the puck over too much and they were able to create opportunities off of those turnovers."
Davenport came out on attack in the third period and Bealy put back a rebound in front off shots from Everett Thompson and Ian Thompson at the 11:15 mark for a 4-1 lead.
After Ryan came out of the penalty box and had his point-blank shot saved by Swift, Harris converted on a scramble in front of the cage off an assist from freshman forward Basil Reynolds to draw the Flames within 4-2 with 2:14 remaining in regulation. However, they were unable to generate any more quality scoring chances and allowed the Panthers to secure the win and the early 1-0 advantage in the best-of-three series.
The series rivalry is rooted in Civil War history between the Union and Confederate states. Over 150 years ago, soldiers from the Third Michigan Infantry and Sixth and Seventh Michigan Cavalry regiments based in Grand Rapids, Mich., and the Eleventh Virginia Infantry and Second Virginia Cavalry regiments, based in Lynchburg, Va., clashed at least five times on the battlefield.
To capture its second Blue & Gray cup in five tries, Liberty will need to sweep Davenport when it hosts the Panthers for the last two games of the series on Feb. 3-4 at the LaHaye Ice Center. For now, it is focused on preparing for its two-game series at Oakland, Friday at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in the ONYX Ice Arena in Rochester, Mich.