Flames roll over the Crimson Tide in weekend hockey series
Flames roll over the Crimson Tide in weekend hockey series
Friday, Feb. 9
The Liberty Flames men’s hockey team continued an impressive streak of dominance by defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide, 7-2, during the first-ever Star Wars Night at the LaHaye Ice Center Feb. 9.
As the Flames eased their way toward a 14th consecutive win, fans were entertained by Star Wars-themed festivities before and in-between gameplay.
From Darth Vader standing on the ice during the national anthem to Rey riding the Zamboni between the first and second periods, characters from the Star Wars saga could be spotted all over LaHaye Ice Center Friday night.
The special festivities seemed to energize a rollicking home crowd that was delighted by a flurry of early goals by a relentless Flames attack.
“I don’t know if it was Alabama’s legs coming off the bus or it was just us having an extra jump from the fans. Probably the latter,” Liberty freshman forward Sam Carlson said. “There’s something about the first (period) where things were clicking, we were getting bounces.”
After a little over six minutes of scoreless action in which Liberty goalie Cole Burack made some key saves, the Flames caught fire, starting with a goal from freshman forward Ryan Cox.
“(After) the first goal, the place erupted and gave us a huge boost,” Flames sophomore defenseman Garrett Nelson said. “(It also) kind of deflated Alabama.”
Cox punched in the first of his two goals on the night as the Crimson Tide’s senior defenseman Ian Soifer was called for a hooking penalty. On the ensuing power play, a clearing attempt by Alabama went right to freshman forward Devin Pierce, who waltzed toward the net and promptly made it 2-0 Flames.
“Our power play and penalty kill were outstanding,” head coach Kirk Handy said.
The Flames went 3-for-7 with the man advantage and held the Crimson Tide scoreless across five minor penalties.
Liberty’s second power-play goal came on a shot from the point by junior defenseman Zane Schartz with 11:29 remaining in the opening period. For Schartz, who now has the second-most points in the American Collegiate Hockey Association behind teammate Grant Garvin, his 20th goal of the season made it 3-0.
We have a very potent offense and once we get that confidence we’re going to keep scoring goals,” senior forward Colt Steele said.
The Flames kept the pressure on the Crimson Tide, with sophomore forward Quinn Ryan extending the lead to 4-0 two minutes later.
“It’s definitely momentum,” Carlson said. “We just score one and we score the next, and the boys are loving it.”
Before the period was over, Liberty added another against Alabama netminder Garrett Kingsbury, who was replaced by Sam Schilling at the beginning of the second period.
“I don’t even know how to describe it,” Nelson said of the scoring burst. “It’s just like a shot of adrenaline almost. Just blur vision. Everyone’s excited. It’s awesome.”
Freshman forward Cole Gammer faked a wrap-around attempt and slid in the fifth Flames goal, with assists credited to Ryan and Garvin.
As Liberty came off the ice for the first intermission with a commanding 5-0 lead, Flames fans cheered loudly, with some even giving their team a standing ovation.
“I definitely attribute a lot to the fans and just the energy in the building,” Carlson said. “It was pretty fun to be around.”
Almost five minutes into the second period, Cox scored his second goal of the game as he beat Alabama’s junior replacement goalie, Sam Schilling.
A power play for the Flames around the halfway point of the contest ended with Nelson finding the back of the net to make it 7-0.
The Crimson Tide finally fought back with two goals within a 19-second span late in the second period, as they took advantage of some sloppy play by Liberty.
“I think there’s areas we can really improve on,” Handy said. “I think we took a couple penalties that we didn’t want to take tonight, and I thought that there was (sic) moments in that second period where we could have been a lot better.”
The final period of play passed with no goals, but fans were treated to a brawl that resulted in two roughing minors against Liberty and the ejection of the Crimson Tide’s senior forward Sam Messina.
The 7-2 Flames victory was especially significant for Handy, as it was the 400th win of his head coaching career at Liberty.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of hard work by a lot of different people other than myself,” Handy said of reaching the milestone. “The players who have played here over the years. The guys I’ve coached with.”
Handy thanked University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., who was in attendance Friday night, and many others for their support over the years.
“It isn’t about me,” Handy said. “I’m just a small part in this whole program and I’ve been blessed to work with lots of great people. It’s been a neat journey for me and my family. My wife’s been very gracious to me over the years.”
Handy, who is in his 18th season at Liberty, is now 400-181-16 overall.
“He’s a great role model and leads us on and off the ice,” Nelson said. “He’s got great relationships with each and every one of us, and I think that goes a long way.”
As a part of Star Wars night, the Flames sported orange and white “rebel pilot” jerseys that were auctioned off as part of a charity fundraiser for Orphan’s Heart. Orphan’s Heart is a nonprofit organization that helps to sponsor children in developing nations by providing Christ-centered physical, spiritual, emotional and medical services, according to OrphansHeart.org.
“The auction money goes to charity … and I just think that’s awesome,” Nelson said. “Being men of God, on and off the ice, I think helps influence others who don’t know Christ.”
The highest bid of the night for one jersey came in at $305, with funds heading to the organization Orphan’s Heart.
“Our mission for the hockey program is the same as the University – build champions for Christ,” Handy said. “And I think that that’s done by keeping tabs on our environment here and making sure that we … align with the vision that Liberty’s always had.”
Sat. Feb. 10
The LaHaye Ice Center crowd rose to its feet and roared as Flames junior defenseman Zane Schartz’s fist slammed into the chin of Alabama Crimson Tide sophomore Paul Weise. The crowd began beating the glass with enthusiasm as Schwartz threw Weise to the ice in victory before skating around the rink, celebrating the highlight of the Flames 11-2 victory over the Crimson Tide on Saturday, Feb. 10.
“The guy had given Zane a whack, so we don’t mind a guy standing up for himself,” Flames head coach Kirk Handy said.
The Flames gave the Crimson Tide a “whack,” by outscoring the Crimson Tide 18-4 in the two-game weekend series. The win on Saturday brought the Flames to a 15-game win streak and an overall record of 26-6 on the season.
“It’s a great group of guys. It’s a motivated group of guys, and its been an exciting year for us,” Handy said. “We’ve really seen our guys grow and mature.”
The Flames motivation and maturity were on full display as the game began with the Crimson Tide surrendering three goals in the first 10 minutes.
The Flames defense was also strong all night, keeping the puck near the Crimson Tide goal for the majority of the first period.
“We’re kind of starting to get the chemistry and everything,” senior forward Timothy Bierema said. “I’m very excited about it.”
The Flames excitement showed early on as the enthusiastic team finished the first period with a 4-0 lead.
The Flames got the crowd into the game early and kept them entertained for the whole evening. Crimson Tide defenseman Ian Soifer checked Flames center Grant Garvin midway through the second period. Soifer was given a dose of his own method later in the period when Flames freshman Cole Gammer viciously blindsided him at center rink, earning wild applause from Flames fans.
The Flames added three goals in the second period, sending them into the second break with a comfortable 7-1 lead.
“I think we’re just all on the same page,” Bierema said. “We have all bought in to what we want to do, and every guy is doing their part. I think we’re just keeping our heads down and keeping it rolling.”
The Flames “same page” must have been the scoring page, as five different players took part in the Flames scoring action.
As the end of the regular season approaches, so does playoff time for the Flames.
“We’ll just be refining our game more,” Flames goalie Joshua Halpenny said. “Cleaning up some areas we need to clean up and just really getting dialed in.”
The Flames finished the weekend with 7-2 and 11-2 victories against the Crimson Tide, leaving areas that need refining to be few and far between.
The Flames will host the West Virginia Mountaineers this weekend in a two-game series, capping off the regular season. If the Flames exit their two-game series against the mountaineers victorious, they will be riding a 17-game win streak heading into the postseason.
Saturday, Feb. 17 will also be senior night for the Flames.
“I know it will be kind of an emotional night, bittersweet for a lot of the guys,” Bierema said. “All the seniors, it’s their last run.”
The Flames have not lost a game since Nov. 17, when they fell to New York University 5-4. As the Flames prepare for their next game and the playoffs to follow, spirits are high.
“We feel great,” Bierema said. “We feel really, really good about what we can do here.”
The Flames next game is Friday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. at the LaHaye Ice Center against the West Virginia Mountaineers.