Men’s D1 hockey thrilling shootout over Adrian

It was an electric environment at the LaHaye Ice Center Feb. 4 as the No. 5 Liberty Flames were set to host the No. 2 Adrian Bulldogs.

This would be the second matchup between the two ACHA powerhouses in two days. Just the night before in game one, Adrian’s dominance in the first period helped the Bulldogs secure a 3-1 victory. The loss was an alarming one for the Flames, extending Liberty’s losing streak to five and making Saturday’s matchup all the more crucial. 

From the moment the puck dropped, it was clear the Flames were on a mission. Liberty played an aggressive style of offense early, and it paid off when sophomore forward Jacob Kalandyk netted the first goal of the game. 

Soon after, senior forward Matt Bartel took advantage of a power play opportunity and scored goal number two. Capitalizing on specialty teams from the get-go proved vital for the Flames, as they were facing a Bulldogs team that had only given up one power play goal the entire season prior to the series. 

After one period, Liberty held a commanding 2-0 lead. This early dominance was crucial for Head Coach Kirk Handy.

“It was super important,” Handy said. “I really like how we came out … our guys played a great first period.”

Adrian, however, fought back. The Bulldogs scored in the final seconds of the second period off a wrist shot from forward Sebastian Smith that narrowed the gap to 2-1. Then, in the early minutes of the third, forward Connor Smith knocked a slapshot from the left circle past senior netminder Hunter Virostek to even the scoreboard. 

While Liberty was able to regain command on 4-on-4 with a wrist shot from senior forward Brett Gammer, a critical tripping penalty from senior forward Truett Olson would set up the Bulldogs with a man advantage. Senior forward Sam Spaedt put the puck past Virostek with just 5:13 remaining, ultimately sending the game into overtime.

Liberty looked to score and win the game in the five-minute overtime period, but the team could not capitalize on the power play, making a shootout the deciding factor.

While fans were anxious, Liberty was unfazed. The Flames dominated the shootout, with goals from junior forward Jason Foltz and freshman defenseman Lazarus Kaebel. Virostek, however, was the ultimate hero of the game, with two incredible saves in the shootout to add to his dominant afternoon.

As Liberty celebrated this much-needed victory, senior Captain Colin Baird spoke on the mental toughness his team has had of late.

“The mentality we have had lately, it doesn’t matter if we’re up two or down 30, we just take it in stride,” Baird said. “We know how to play our game, and we just roll from there.”

Liberty will close out its regular season with two home series against Ohio and Minot St. Following those games, the Flames will enter the ACHA National Tournament in hopes of bringing home the first national title in Flames hockey history.

Garrett  is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion

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