Colonials renew friendly rivalry with Flames, storm ice after staging 4-1 upset at the LIC
Meeting Robert Morris University for the first time in 10 years, Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team took a little while to warm up to their long-lost friends from Pennsylvania on Friday night.
But the unranked Colonials (7-2-1) made themselves right at home in the LaHaye Ice Center, rallying from a 1-0 deficit with two unanswered goals in the second period before adding two empty-netters in the third to end the No. 5-ranked Flames’ eight-game winning streak in the series with a 4-1 setback.
“Their goalie played well, and their team had a sense of urgency and desperation tonight and we just didn’t have a lot of life tonight and didn’t play well,” Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said after the Flames (5-4) outshot their guests, 63-30, with RMU goalie Parker Rutherford making 62 saves. “They wanted to win tonight, and they came in and … we got outworked tonight and outplayed. We need to be better. It was definitely not what we were looking for (but) we will be better (on Saturday), I can guarantee that. Sometimes, you need a setback like this to explode forward.”
After a slow start, Brett Gammer finally gave the Flames and their fans a spark by collecting a loose puck left by fellow senior forward Josh Fricks behind the cage and skating it out into the left crease, where he lifted a wrist shot into the top-left corner of the cage, over the shoulder of RMU Rutherford for a 1-0 lead with 2:02 left in the first period.
But the Colonials struck back to tie the contest at 1-1 at the 15:40 mark of the second period when forward Justin Adamski’s one-timed shot from the high slot off defenseman Hunter Hodgson’s assist from the left goal line ripped past Virostek into the upper netting. Three minutes later, Adamski struck again immediately after winning a faceoff in the left circle, rifling a wrist shot into the top-left corner of the cage that lifted RMU to a 2-1 advantage with 13:25 remaining in the period.
“It wasn’t Liberty Hockey tonight,” Flames junior forward Kris Bladen said. “It just wasn’t a good effort from everybody on our team. We didn’t have any intensity and we came out flat every shift. We’ll give it to the goalie. He made a couple good saves and he played a good game, but that’s far from our best effort. We were getting to our spots half of the time and not capitalizing on any of them. We need to be better on all four lines consistently next game.”
Nathan Mickey nearly padded the Colonials’ lead with 5:56 in the second, pouncing on a loose puck and slapping a shot from the left crease, but Virostek (26 saves) slammed the door at the left post. Then, with RMU on a power play, Virostek blocked a quality shot by Roman Kraemer before checking another Colonial cutting across the crease with the puck to keep the Flames within one goal going into the second intermission.
Liberty came out firing in the third period, striking its third post of the contest before pelting Rutherford with shots off the stick of junior forward Jacob Kalandyk, sophomore forward Truett Olson, sophomore defenseman Nate Cox, and freshman defenseman Colten Kovich. Gammer, Bladen, and senior forward Matt Bartel also had high-percentage shots denied, all in the opening five minutes. Rutherford made a kick save of a shorthanded shot by Olson on transition before Liberty killed that penalty and went back on the PK seconds later after a crosschecking call.
“We took seven penalties,” Handy said. “Our PK was strong again tonight, but we went 0 for 5 on the power play and only scored one 5-on-5 goal. It’s disappointing.”
“That’s a big thing is discipline,” Bladen added. “We’ve kind of struggled with that all year of taking too many penalties. Our penalty kill’s been really solid, but we need those 5-on-5 minutes and potentially power play minutes instead of killing off penalties.”
With the Flames on the power play, Bartel had back-to-back blasts from the high slot blocked by Rutherford, who preserved the one-goal lead, before Liberty lost its 5-on-4 due to a penalty with just over 6:00 to go.
Back at even strength, Kovich nearly netted the equalizer with a shot from deep in the left circle, with his wrist shot glancing off the top-left and top-right corners of the cage. The Flames maintained the pressure, with junior forward Jason Foltz generating a couple quality chances before Liberty pulled Virostek for the final 2:00 to give themselves a man advantage. The Colonials immediately cashed in with an empty-netter on Giovanni Palombo’s shot from beyond his own blue line that glanced off the stick of a Flames defenseman and slid into the open goalmouth. RMU struck again when Kraemer capitalized on a Liberty turnover and skated the puck into the back of the Flames’ open net with 40 seconds to play.
“I still have confidence in the guys in there,” Handy said of the Flames’ locker room. “We need to learn our lesson. It’s Oct. 28, and it’s not March. If you want to get to March, you’ve got to play well at this time of the year, and to manage every game. It just didn’t feel like we had an urgency in our game tonight.”
Bladen said the game serves as a wake-up call for a team that hadn’t played in two weeks.
“(Our coaches) told us to look ourselves in the mirror and play to our potential,” he said. “They know how good we can be and it comes down to us in the room, each individual coming in (Saturday) ready to go.”
Liberty will look to salvage a series split in Saturday’s rematch at 7 p.m.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media