Men’s D1 hockey notches 15 goals in two games for much-needed series sweep

Coming off a disappointing series split with Delaware last weekend, the Liberty men’s D1 hockey team headed back to the LaHaye Ice Center seeking redemption Nov. 4-5 against 18th-ranked Stony Brook Seawolves. 

The uncharacteristic series against Delaware, which consisted of a 6-3 loss and a narrow 3-2 victory, dropped the Flames to No. 15  in the ACHA National Rankings — 11 spots from their previous ranking of No. 4. Challenged by yet another strong opponent, Liberty stared down the difficult task of turning its season around and defeating the Stony Brook Seawolves. 

Liberty’s struggles have stemmed from a few specific areas that Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy has highlighted all season long, a couple of which include a lack of consistency to score goals and staying out of the penalty box. 

Hoping to correct those wrongs, the Flames took on Stony Brook for the first game of the home series Nov. 4. Due to injuries Liberty was once again absent its veteran goaltender, Hunter Virostek, who has been dominant this season. Relying now on goaltenders sophomore Nick Bernstein and sophomore Jackson Glassford, the Flames forwards looked to step up and provide offensive protection. 

After the pre-game preparation, the Flames came out flying for a goal from sophomore forward Sam Feamster eight minutes into the first period. This lead, however, was short-lived, with Stony Brook freshman Grant Ermellini scoring to tie the game with two minutes left in the first. The game stayed tied going into the first intermission, with a frustrated Flames’ offense that more than doubled the Seawolves’ shots on goal in the first. 

This frustration did not last for long in the second period. Merely 12 seconds into the second, Liberty sophomore and assistant captain Nate Albers tallied his first goal of the season to give the Flames a 2-1 lead. A plethora of shots rendered the Stony Brook goaltender useless, as the Flames buried another two goals before the halfway mark of the period, giving Liberty a three-goal cushion. 

Despite the positive offensive explosion, the Flames struggled to stay out of the box with five penalties in the second. Their consequence? A Stony Brook goal with less than two minutes left in the period to close the deficit to two goals going into the final period of play. 

Liberty came out for the third on fire, scoring three goals in just over a minute, extending its advantage to five goals. Dominating play and staying out of the penalty box, the Flames were able to execute their style of hockey — fast, physical and skilled. This led to another two goals for Liberty, including two from senior forward DJ Schwenke. The senior has been kept quiet this season so far, but exploding for four points, two goals and two assists against the Seawolves might have been the push that Schwenke needed. The Flames ended the game with a 9-2 victory, a huge confidence boost for the team in need of a resurgence.

“I think it’s taken us a few games to adjust to having a lot of guys injured,” Handy said. “Sometimes there’s opportunity but guys can’t see it … It takes them a few games to see that it’s (their opportunity) and not someone else’s.” 

Outshooting Stony Brook 47-26 Friday night, the Flames’ offensive explosion can be attributed to how much the pressure they put on the Seawolves’ goaltender to make saves. 

With a rather quick turnaround, game two commenced at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The Flames elected to start Glassford for game two — his second start of the season. Attempting to do what they did in game one, the Flames came out of the gate outskating, outshooting and outplaying the Seawolves. This paid off as graduate forward Matt Bartel tallied his second goal of the weekend seven minutes into the first. Despite the quick start, Stony Brook silenced the crowd with a goal three minutes later from Ermellini to tie the game. 

Back and forth in both play and score, Bartel struck again, putting the Flames back on top. Dominating for the next few minutes, freshman forward Mason Smith put his name on the scoresheet with his second of the season to give Liberty a two-goal cushion going into the second. 

The second period was a game of special teams. With nine penalties handed out, six of which were to Liberty, both team’s special units were on display. 

“We took way too many penalties tonight,” Handy said. “We put ourselves in a bad spot.” 

The Seawolves were the first to capitalize on the power play, as Owen Larson netted his first of the season. Only two minutes later, Stony Brook was able to find the twine again, this time Matteo Diata with his first of the year to tie the game at three. 

The game was locked in a tie for the next few minutes until Liberty went on the power play. Then, Bartel struck yet again.

“They kept giving me a lot of space on the powerplay” Bartel recounted. “I had a few chances like that but didn’t miss that one.” 

The captain’s goal gave the Flames a 4-3 lead that they would maintain into the second intermission. 

Liberty’s offense was not the problem in this game, but rather its defensive play, as Seawolf Matt Minerva was able to create a turnover that ended up in the back of the net. 

With Stony Brook’s persistent grit, they tied the game at four apiece. This did not hold for long, however, as less than a minute later Liberty forward Truett Olson gave the Flames the lead on a battle in front of the net. Stony Brook did not give up, as Ermellini scored his second of the night to tie the game at five with eight minutes left in regulation. 

With Liberty morale down, sparkplug freshman Ryan Finch was able to beat a defender and score a beautiful goal with four minutes left in the third to give Liberty a 6-5 lead. Despite a valiant attempt from the Seawolves to tie the game again, Glassford stood tall and secured Liberty’s sweep over Stony Brook. 

Scoring 15 goals over two vital games against Stony Brook will help the Flames with confidence and energy going into the last few series of the semester. 

“You battle through it and still win the game,” Handy said. “That’s the key.” 

A majority of the adversity the Flames faced this weekend was self-inflicted through badly timed penalties and turnovers. 

“I think it is a good learning lesson for us,” Bartel noted. “We can’t keep going up and letting off the gas.” 

The Flames will be back at home Friday, Nov. 11 and Saturday, Nov. 12 against another strong opponent, Ohio University. Liberty will have Hunter Virostek back between the pipes to help the Flames extend their winning streak.

Bessire is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on X

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