Mens Ice Hockey Team Dominates Western Michigan in 2-game series
Extending their home win streak, the Liberty Flames Division 1 men’s hockey team took to the ice and captured the victory, dominating Western Michigan 4-0 Saturday night, Feb. 3, at the LaHaye Ice Center.
After a squeaking past the Broncos 4-3 Friday, the Flames put on a commanding performance against the same team a night later to extend their home win streak that started Nov. 18, 2017.
“You know what, we challenged our guys a little bit, you know, after last night’s game,” Liberty head coach Kirk Handy said Saturday. “We wanted to be better 5-on-5 and I thought we were tonight. We wanted to be better in our D zone and I thought we were tonight.”
Western Michigan’s offense was overshadowed by the Flames, who outshot the Broncos by 36.
“(We were) definitely working from the defense-first mentality,” Flames defenseman Josh Bergen said. “Taking care of our end…and then whatever happens in the offensive zone happens.”
Liberty started fast, with sophomore forward Victor Blomberg netting his eighth goal of the season a little over seven minutes into the first period after a shot from teammate Matt Cruickshank was tipped toward him.
“I was pretty much behind the goalie and just tapped it in,” Blomberg said.
About two-and-a-half minutes after Blomberg gave the Flames a 1-0 lead, Liberty’s leading scorer, center Grant Garvin, doubled it with a power-play goal. The Flames final score, by defenseman Garrett Nelson late in the third period, was also scored with a man advantage.
Coach Handy credited assistant coach Dan Berthiaume and his players for the execution on special teams, with the team scoring five of their eight goals over the weekend on the power play.
“We wanted to refine our power play and penalty kill and both of them were excellent tonight,” coach Handy said.
Liberty killed six minor penalties and sidestepped a 10-minute misconduct call against freshman forward Jordan Bochinski Saturday.
Bochinski’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was not the only one in the third period in which some players on Western Michigan unraveled. The Broncos Zachary Roberts and Corey Siwula were each sent to the visiting locker room in the last nine minutes of the game.
“I think we did great,” Blomberg said about his team’s ability to remain calm in the third period. “I mean, they were the guys who took the most penalties so…They tried to get us into that, but I think we stayed out of it pretty good tonight.”
Siwula’s early exit, due to a game misconduct, was accompanied by a five-minute major penalty that the Flames capitalized on with Nelson’s goal with 4:04 left to play in the game.
Liberty had a few golden opportunities to add more goals in the third period, but the Flames were denied by Western Michigan goalie Sam Wozniski, who made some impressive saves down the stretch.
“It was frustrating,” Bergen said about the Flames getting only four goals on 52 shots. “It goes that way when you play against good goaltending. Obviously, we would like to have (had) more, but, he’s a good goalie and he proved it.”
Opposite of Wozniski, Liberty goalie Cole Burack earned his fifth shutout of the season as he stopped all 16 shots he faced.
“When you’re not getting that many shots a lot of times you’re letting in easy ones, but he found a way just to stay focused for the whole game and made the saves he needed to make,” Flames freshman Sam Carlson said of Burack. “He’s just been phenomenal for us.”
Liberty was able to give their netminder some breathing room at the end of the second period after a long stretch of exciting back-and-forth play, as senior Tim Bierema scored with exactly one minute left in the second period.
“It was huge,” Handy said of Bierema’s sixth goal of the season. “But it was also the way the goal went in… Tim works his butt off getting up the ice and dives to put the puck in. He’s been a great player for us all year and he’s one of our captains.”
The Flames have not lost since dropping a 5-4 decision at New York University Nov. 17.
“We want to keep the wins going just so that we can move up in our national ranking. (We want) to kind of intimidate other teams as well,” Bergen said.
Liberty next hosts the University of Alabama for back-to-back contests Feb. 9 and 10 at LaHaye Ice Center.