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    October 27, 2017 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    As children dressed in superhero costumes and hockey outfits gathered candy along the concourse on a pre-Halloween Kids Night at the LaHaye Ice Center, Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team allowed visiting Ohio University to treat itself to its 10th consecutive triumph in its series with the Flames on Friday.

    Liberty (8-3), ranked No. 13 in ACHA Division I, lost its third series opener of the season — each on its home ice — by letting No. 11 Ohio (7-2-1) net the equalizer late in the second period and put away the game-winner early in the third of a 2-1 setback.

    "We didn't have the urgency that's needed at points in the game, such as on a five-on-three power play (midway through the second period)," Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. "We didn't execute at those parts of the game tonight."

    Liberty contained Ohio's power-play unit, but was shut out on all six of its power-play opportunities.

    "Our PK played well," Handy said. "They've been solid for us all year. (But) we were OK with being average on the power play. We're not OK with being average. We want to push to be excellent."

    He said the Flames turned the puck over to the Bobcats more often than usual.

    The Flames ended the first period and started the second on the penalty kill. They extinguished the first with Matt Cruickshank in the box before fellow sophomore defenseman Chaydan Lauber took his place for the final 25 seconds of the period and the opening 1:25 of the second, when the Bobcats were denied or missed wide on eight medium-ranged shots.

    Liberty sophomore defenseman Josh Bergen finally ended the scoreless tie with 4:20 to play in the second period, threading a shot from just wide of the right circle through a screen in front of Ohio goalie Jimmy Thomas, off an assist from senior forward Grant Garvin.

    However, Ohio struck back 27 seconds later when Michael Palasics skated off the right side of the back boards and dropped the puck for forward linemate Kyle Craddick, who split two Flames and lifted a wrist shot into the upper netting past Liberty junior goalie Cole Burack.

    "After our first goal, it ignited a spark at their feet," freshman forward Jordan Bochinski said of the Bobcats' immediate response. "You could see them on the very next shift come out flying, and that's on us, too. We need to make sure that our morale is high and that we're ready to go so that we can answer the same way. Tonight, we all take responsibility, every line, for not performing as well as we can."   

    The score remained tied at 1-1 heading into the third period when Palasics and Craddick connected again just 28 seconds after the opening faceoff, allowing the Bobcats to seize the 2-1 lead that stood to the end. Palasics gathered the rebound of his own shot from the right circle and sent a cross-crease follow to Craddick, who redirected it with a one-timer past Burack.

    Freshman forward Cole Gammer (90) lines up against Ohio. (Photo by Andrew Snyder)

    Freshman forward Sam Carlson nearly knotted the score at the 11-minute mark, tipping a shot launched from the high slot by sophomore defenseman Garrett Nelson, but Thomas kick saved it and cleared the loose puck before Carlson could stick it in.

    "You aren't going to get a lot against these guys," Handy said. "They're going to try to block the middle. We've got to find ways to get shots through and find scoring chances. We're going to have to battle for the ones we do get."

    Junior defenseman Zane Schartz and Garvin had near misses on slapshots from the point before sophomore defenseman Jacob Fricks' shot from the slot missed just wide left with less than 3:00 remaining in regulation.

    "We had a lot of perimeter shots tonight but we didn't test them very much," Bochinski said. "We need to get in front of (Thomas) more and take his eyes away. He's a good goalie and he's going to stop what he sees, so for us to be in his crease and getting chances from the inside is important tomorrow."

    The Flames pulled Burick for the final 1:29 but didn't manage to get a quality shot off with the man advantage.

    For the contest, Ohio held a 36-32 shot advantage and Burack made 34 saves to 31 by Thomas. 

    "We all have to do better (Saturday) night," Handy said. "It starts with the coaches, and the players, everyone's got to be better. We'll hit the reset button, all of us, and come back ready to play."

    The last time the Flames defeated the Bobcats was more than four years ago, Oct. 4-5, 2013, when Liberty swept Ohio on its home ice. The puck drops at 7 p.m. for Saturday's rematch back at LaHaye.


    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

    Flames junior goalie Cole Burack made 34 saves in the 2-1 setback. (Photo by Andrew Snyder)