Flames burn Beavers
Men’s DI hockey sweeps Minot State in final home stand of ’14-’15 season
Liberty University men’s Division I (DI) hockey team seniors went out with a bang as they swept their final home series against the No. 3 Minot State University Beavers, Feb. 20-21.
The 11th-ranked Flames — who, until last weekend’s wins over unranked West Virginia University, had not swept a home series since September — hit the ice Friday night with their full roster and consistent lines for the first time in almost as long.
“We’ve had to battle through a lot of injuries this year,” Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “It’s exciting to have our guys back. It felt like for the last couple of weeks practice has been going really well, and it’s nice to see it pay dividends for our guys tonight.”
Those dividends came in the form of a 5-1 game one win for the Flames. Senior forward Ryley Egan, assisted by sophomore defenseman Chase Harris and senior defenseman Cam Bakker, kicked off the scoring just over a minute into the game.
Bakker found the back of the net himself just minutes later on a Flames power play, and sophomore forward Robert Ward scored off passes from Egan and freshman forward Grant Garvin before the period’s end.
While the Beavers found the back of the net before first intermission, too, junior forward Bram Erickson restored the Flames three-goal lead in the second off a pass from junior forward Danny Logan. Freshman forward Luke Hannon, recently returned from national team play, capped off the scoring in the final period with help from senior forward Lindsay LeBlanc.
“It felt like every guy was in the loop tonight, and it was nice to see,” Handy said. “We’re getting back healthy, the guys are getting going and, man, what a good effort tonight for the guys.”
While Friday’s win was nice, Handy and his team alike were not satisfied with splitting their last outing at home — especially with nationals looming.
“We’re only halfway there,” Handy said. “We’ve got to make sure we win tomorrow, too, and really solidify ourselves.”
The men did just that, battling through a tight, tense game two to down the Beavers 3-1 Saturday, Feb. 21.
The Flames took the lead in an even first period with Ward firing one home off assists from Egan and Garvin.
The Beavers returned with a fury in the second period, freshman goalie Josh Halpenny standing on his head to deny all but one shot before intermission.
With under eight minutes to go in the game and the pressure mounting, Egan came up big for the Flames, burying the puck with help from LeBlanc and junior defenseman Steven Bellew to restore the Flames lead.
The Beavers pulled their goalie as time wound down, and with four seconds left on the clock, Liberty senior forward Christian Garland netted an empty-net goal to seal the victory.
“(These games were) a true test for our team,” Garland said. “We had to really want it, and it was unreal to win them senior weekend. … I can’t believe how quick the time has gone, and it’s awesome for the guys I’ve played with for four years to get both of these games.”
Garland, like Handy, noted increased health and consistency as major factors in the team’s success and positive indicators headed into postseason play.
“We’re going into nationals with two huge wins where we all came together and finally meshed as a unit,” Garland said. “I mean, having a sweep of the No. 3 team in the country is huge. … I think now we all believe we can pull it off.”
Handy echoed his players’ thoughts, expressing his pride in the character and maturity all have developed throughout an up-and-down season and a special gratitude for the commitment of his seniors.
“Those eight guys out there have done so much for this program,” Handy said. “It’s been an exciting four years for them being here, and I really feel like the best is yet to come.”
RUSH is a sports reporter.