DIII Flames drop two of three in final regular-season series
February 1, 2015 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's ACHA Division III men's hockey team went 1-2 on their final three home games of the 2014-15 season.
The Flames, ranked 13th in the South Region, dropped both games in a series against the 11th-ranked University of Mississippi Rebels before rebounding to edge the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), 6-5 on Sunday.
Liberty lost Friday's opener against Ole Miss, 4-1, after allowing two goals in the first period.
"We came out really slow," Flames Head Coach Rett McGibbon said. "In the first period we didn't have much desperation or intensity, but then second period I thought we really came on."
With new energy and a sense of urgency, Liberty attacked the net after first intermission. Senior forward Chad Docksteader buried a tip in the second period to put the Flames on the board, but the Ole Miss goaltender held solid for the remainder of the game and the Rebels snuck two more goals in before the final buzzer.
"Their goalie made some really quality stops, he played really well," McGibbon said. "We were in their end most of the game … the biggest thing would be making sure we're getting a person screening the goalie and putting lots of shots on net."
While Liberty made adjustments for Game 2, the Rebels emerged with a 7-4 win that left the Flames tipping their hats.
"Ole Miss played extremely well," McGibbon said. "Their goalie played well, they played well defensively, they had their skating legs, and they took advantage of their opportunities — shot low pad and buried rebounds. They played a really great road game, and I'm surprised they're (only) 11th in our region. They're probably one of the best teams we've played all year, the way they bind to their system and compete."
The Rebels went up 2-0 in the first period, then added a third goal early in the second. Freshman defenseman Jimmy Brady responded with a goal for the Flames a few minutes later, assisted by senior forward Kyle Burman and senior forward Nat Arbour.
Ole Miss increased its lead with two more goals before the end of the second period, but the Flames scored two to kick off the third. Docksteader struck first, finishing assists from Burman and senior forward and team captain Brandon Cockburn, before Cockburn and Docksteader helped Brady find the back of the net once more on a power play later in the period.
The Rebels scored a power play goal of their own, then immediately yielded another as Burman, assisted by Brady and Docksteader, gave the Flames their fourth and final goal of the night.
While the comeback effort was admirable, it was not enough as the Rebels scored once more to seal the win.
"They were a well-coached team with a well-designed system," junior defenseman Ryan Francis said. "They had a solid breakout and good forecheck. We just needed to buckle down and play our own system."
With the series against the Rebels behind them and a wary eye on the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference tournament approaching this weekend, the Flames took the ice on Sunday with more personal motivation — getting a win for graduating seniors Markus Deas, Paul Brueckner, Josh Klakring, Christian Smith, alternate captains Burman and Docksteader, and captain Cockburn in their last game on Liberty ice.
While it wasn't pretty, the Flames pulled out a 6-5 victory over UNCC.
Beresid scored first, putting the Flames up midway through the first with help from freshman defenseman Connor Sheehey. Docksteader, assisted by Burman and Cockburn, scored soon after.
Klakring and Smith combined for a goal midway through the second before the 49ers got on the scoreboard. Francis returned the Flames to a three-goal lead off a pass from Deas at the start of the third period before Burman buried one of his own.
The 49ers would not give up, scoring yet again with just under 10 minutes left in the game. Docksteader found the back of the net for a second time at the five-minute mark, and Liberty then weathered a three-goal scoring effort by UNCC to hold on for the senior night victory.
"It was a very ugly win, but it was good to win, and good seeing the seniors out on a win there," McGibbon said.
The coach reminisced on the Christ-centered impact this group of seniors have had on his team and expressed his appreciation for each in turn.
"They're going to be tough to replace," McGibbon said. "We've been very fortunate to have really godly leaders on the ice — (Chad) Docksteader is just a rock-solid Christian in there for us … Burman's always very vocal … and Cockburn has been with us for five years — the longest-serving captain in Liberty Hockey history — and a lot of the success that DIII hockey has had is due to him. He's been a rock for us, and we're going to miss him greatly next year. It's going to be tough to fill all of their shoes, not only on the ice but in the spiritual leadership they provide as well."
The seniors all expressed their love and appreciation for Liberty Hockey and their time playing for the program, but shared a hope that the game was not their final season's end.
"It's an uphill battle, we know we have to win the conference (tournament) to get in the top 10 (and make regionals)," Cockburn said. "So we have our work cut out for us, but I believe that we can do it and we have the pieces to do it. It's just a matter of getting the work done this weekend."