Sons of Liberty: Men’s D1 Flames earn second consecutive series sweep, triumph over Ohio Bobcats

The Liberty men’s D1 hockey team hit the ice at LaHaye Ice Center this past weekend, sweeping the series against rival Ohio University and winning its fifth game in a row on Saturday night.

In game one of the series, graduate goaltender Hunter Virostek was tested early on, making two back-to-back saves. Friday night marked Virostek’s first game back in almost a month after suffering an injury against Adrian College. 

“We said in the locker room that (Virostek) is our rock, so having him was amazing,” graduate forward Jackson Vercellono said.

Shortly after, the Flames would have a huge opportunity as junior Kevin Bite rang one off the post that just missed at the 14:47 mark. 

Virostek came up big on the penalty kill for the Flames, thwarting multiple scoring opportunities for the Ohio Bobcats. The period would end with both teams scoreless.

Early in the second period, Ohio had a scoring chance as forward Laker Aldridge ripped a shot but was denied by Virostek. Having lost one of their scoring weapons, Bobcat forward and 2023 ACHA Player of the Year Luc Reeve, to injury late in the first, finding offensive life against the Flames would prove to be a challenge. 

Moments after Aldridge’s attempt, Flames junior forward Jacob Kalandyk entered the offensive zone, taking a shot that was gloved down by Bobcats goaltender Justin Damon. Then, with less than 10 minutes remaining in the second, senior forward Jason Foltz had a breakaway opportunity and netted it, putting the Flames up 1-0. 

Ohio would have its chance to tie the game with 4:21 left, as defenseman Sam Turner tried to get his team on the board. However, Virostek made a lunging head-first save, maintaining the Flames 1-0 lead. The Flames would give Ohio a 5-on-3-man advantage, but Virostek remained a brick wall in the net. The Liberty Flames killed off the 5-on-3, maintaining their 1-0 lead to end the second period. 

“Our PK was excellent tonight,” Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “We killed off a 5-on-3 and, overall, it was a good game.”

The third period would see the Bobcats fight back, as Ohio forward Aiden Grieco beat Virostek low glove-side from the inside edge of the right circle, tying the game up for the Bobcats. 

Bobcats forward Drake Albers would have the chance to gain the lead for Ohio his team as he raced down the ice, shooting blocker-side on Virostek, who made the save. Liberty senior forward DJ Schwenke then had a scoring opportunity of his own, firing a shot just wide of its mark. The third period would end with both teams tied 1-1.

In the five-minute overtime period, both teams found plenty of opportunities early on. Finally, with 2:18 left, Vercellono netted the game-winning goal off a rebound opportunity from Kalandyk, sending the sold-out LaHaye Ice Center crowd off its seats as the New Hampshire native secured the game one victory for the Flames.

The two physical teams began the second game of the series with coincidental minors just 15 seconds into the first period. Both Ohio and Liberty saw multiple scoring opportunities in the opening 10 minutes. 

At the 7:59 mark, Bobcats forward Barron Stibbe scored from the right circle, giving Ohio a 1-0 lead. Liberty sophomore defenseman Grant Morton would return the favor with 4:20 left in the period, tying the game at 1-1. Morton’s goal was his first as a Flame. 

As the second period commenced, the Flames found themselves with a shorthanded opportunity from sophomore forward Sam Feamster, as he ripped one off the crossbar. Liberty was knocking on the door, and with 10:59 left in the period, Kalandyk put one home, getting the shot past Ohio goaltender Max Karlenzig for the 2-1 advantage. 

Shortly after, senior forward Brett Gammer extended Liberty’s lead, with a beautiful crossover followed by a wrist shot from the slot that put his team up 3-1. Then, with just over one minute in the period, Foltz scored on a one-on-one opportunity, making it a 4-1 game.

The third period was one filled with penalties. Liberty began the third on the penalty kill, but Virostek managed to withstand a barrage of shots and maintain the lead. In the closing seconds of an extended power play, Bite netted one bar down, putting the Flames up 5-1. 

“We went up in the third and had some power plays, and we just weren’t finding the back of the net until we got that big goal by Kevin (Bite),” Handy said. 

Ohio would get its power play opportunity, scoring with six minutes left and cutting their deficit to 5-2.  It wasn’t enough, however, to tame the Flames, who left the ice with their second consecutive series sweep. 

 “I thought we played a lot better tonight,” junior defenseman Nate Cox said. “We brought a huge physical aspect and played with a lot more grit.”

The Flames will be back in action at LaHaye Ice Center Dec. 1-2, as they host Pittsburgh in a two-game series, the first of which is a Midnight Mayhem matchup. The last time Liberty and Pittsburgh faced off was the opening round of the 2023 ACHA National Tournament, in which the Flames knocked off the Panthers 7-2. 

Pais is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion

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