Beavers dam up Liberty’s attack, deal Flames 11th straight loss in series, 2-1
Saturday night’s showdown between Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team and Minot State, a 2-1 win by the No. 4 Beavers, featured playoff-level intensity in a competitive rematch from start to finish, the type of battle Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy was looking for when he set up the schedule.
“That’s the way we wanted it, to play in these tight games you’re going to be in at the national tournament,” he said. “It’s a huge benefit for us. I liked our effort a lot better tonight. It was right there for the taking, but they were able to get the upper hand on us. This should provide good motivation for us.”
The two teams traded power-play goals in the first and second periods as the Flames were 1-for-2 on the man advantage and Minot went 1 for 4 for the contest. The Beavers (4-0) netted the game-winner at even strength in the final 2:20 to secure their 11th consecutive victory over the fifth-ranked Flames (4-2).
Brayden Pawluk rifled a wrist shot from the inside edge of the left circle over Flames senior goalie Hunter Virostek’s glove into the top right corner of the cage for a 1-0 lead at the 11:00 mark.
With Liberty on a 5-on-4, senior forward Matt Bartel netted the equalizer 40 seconds before the second intermission with a seeing-eye shot from the right circle through traffic and past Minot goalie Jake Anthony (4-0) who made 19 saves.
“Barty scored a huge goal at the end of the second period and Hunter (Virostek, 40 saves) stood on his head again for us tonight,” Handy said. “He’s a big-game goalie and you expect that out of him.”
The Beavers outshot Liberty by a two-to-one margin (42-20), even greater than in Friday night’s 4-2 series-opening win, when Minot held a 40-25 advantage. But Virostek was up to the test, making a few clutch saves down the stretch with support from defensemen Luke Heimann and Laz Kaebel, who used their bodies to stop shots in front.
With 2:19 remaining in regulation, the Beavers finally broke through to score the go-ahead goal off the stick of Drew Carter, who chased a loose puck along the backboards before sending a quick pass back to Carter Barley in the right crease for a one-timed finish.
“We’ve got to find ways to generate more offense,” Handy said. “You’re not going to win many games being outshot two to one. That’s just a detail of the game we’ve got to get better at.”
The weekend may have been a wash in the win-loss column, but Handy expects it to pay dividends down the road.
“It was a great battle, a battle that goes on for 57 minutes 41 seconds, a tight game back and forth,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to learn. We’ve got to take what we can from this weekend and continue to move forward. We want to be in these types of games, against a tough schedule, because it is going to make us a better team. We have a solid hockey team and we’re going to learn from this and take it to continue to improve.”
The competition only gets more challenging next weekend when the Flames travel to No. 3 Adrian (Mich.) College, which has outscored opponents by a 44-4 margin through its first five games. The pucks will drop for the two-game series at 8 p.m. EST Friday and 2 p.m. EST Sunday in the 500-seat Arrington Ice Arena.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer