Lady Flames fend off fiesty Bulldogs in up-and-down opener
February 15, 2019 | Lynchburg, Va.
In a back-and-forth battle between the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in ACHA Division I women's hockey, Liberty University gave up 1-0 and 3-1 leads before rallying for a 5-4 victory over Adrian (Mich.) late Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center. The reigning champion Lady Flames (23-1-3, ranked No. 2) evened their record at 1-1-1 against the Bulldogs (20-2-1, ranked No. 1) in this season's rematches of the 2018 ACHA DI National Championship game.
"It's a super tight matchup," Liberty Head Coach Chris Lowes said. "That game had a bunch of swings in momentum, which was very similar to the game we tied (4-4 at Adrian on Oct. 27)."
Liberty scored first when graduate defenseman C.J. Tipping launched a shot from the top of the left circle that deflected off the stick of freshman forward Grace Machholz with 12:08 left in the first period.
Seconds after killing a penalty, Adrian netted the equalizer on a two-on-one break with 55 seconds left when center Leah Williams dumped the puck ahead to defenseman Kelly Rae Zdan and received a return pass in front where she chipped in a shot off the glove of Lady Flames junior goalie Nadia Rupoli.
Adrian outshot Liberty 22-21 and Rupoli made 18 saves. The Lady Flames won the special teams showdown, scoring on three of their six power-play opportunities without giving up any goals on the PK.
Midway through the second period, Liberty sophomore defenseman Kristi Serafin cleared a puck that slipped past Rupoli off the goal line before the Lady Flames tacked on two goals in the final four minutes. Sophomore forward Shelby Bradford forced a turnover deep in the offensive end and tucked the loose puck inside the right post to lift Liberty to a 2-1 lead with 3:26 left.
|Lady Flames sophomore forward Shelby Bradford and junior goalie Nadia Rupoli defend against the Bulldogs.|
Just 58 seconds later, with the Lady Flames on a power play, sophomore forward Shannon Fehr sent a pass from the top of the left circle into Machholz, whose turnaround shot in the left crease slipped through the five hole of Bulldogs goalie Dana Colombo for a 3-1 advantage.
Adrian captain Kaillie Hardy trimmed the deficit to 3-2 with 17:15 left in the third period, and with 12:40 to go, the Bulldogs converted the equalizer with a quick counterattack and two-on-one feed from Erika McDonald to Celina Clark, who slammed the puck under the pads of a diving Rupoli.
Williams then lifted Adrian to a 4-3 lead with her second goal off a pivot shot deep in the left circle over the blocker of Rupoli with 9:25 to play.
The Lady Flames capitalized in the final seconds of a power play four minutes later when Tipping's shot from just inside the blue line was tipped in off the stick of junior forward Aly Morris stationed in front, tying the game at 4-4. Finally, with 2:15 left and the teams skating four-on-four, Liberty junior forward Alex Smibert ripped a wrist shot over the shoulder of Colombo into the top left corner of the cage for the game winner.
The Lady Flames killed off a four-on-three penalty in the final two minutes before junior defenseman Rachel Gibson blocked a shot in the left circle with 32 seconds left and Rupoli made a sliding kick save in the final 15 seconds with the Bulldogs skating with a six-on-four advantage.
"We were scrambling, on a penalty kill and they had their goalie pulled, and we just had to survive," Lowes said. "Against good teams, the top teams in the league, that's how it's going to be. You've just got to find a way to get it done. It wasn't pretty (but) people did what they needed to do."
He expects more of the same in Saturday's 1:30 p.m. rematch back at the LaHaye Ice Center, webcast live by LFSN.
"They're a big, tough team and they play a physical game," Lowes said. "That's part of their identity so we've got to be ready for that."