DII Flames defend MACH Tournament title two years later, edging host Rider in final
Liberty University’s ACHA Division II men’s hockey team bounced back from being swept in its regular-season-ending series at Southeast Region rival Florida Gulf Coast University on Feb. 4-5 to defend its Mid-Atlantic College Hockey (MACH) Tournament championship, Friday through Sunday at Ice Land Arena in Hamilton Township, N.J.
The Flames (25-6), who clinched a bye through next weekend’s Southeast Region Playoffs in Columbus, Ohio, and an autobid into the March 14-18 ACHA DII National Championships by finishing ranked No. 2 (behind FGCU) in their region, stormed past Stevenson (Md.) University, 6-0, in Friday’s opener before doubling up Penn State, 4-2, in Saturday’s semifinals, and defeating host Rider (21-5-3) in front of a loud home crowd in Sunday’s final, 3-1.
“Life was normal the last time we won a MACH championship, when we beat Rowan at the end of the 2019-20 season (before the onset of the pandemic),” Liberty fifth-year Head Coach Ben Hughes said, noting none of the other teams in the conference played last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
He was impressed with the way the Flames executed their game plan and prepped for a return to nationals, after reaching the semifinals last season before losing to eventual champion University of Mary on its home ice in Bismarck, N.D.
“The guys really put on a playoff-type performance, playing with a greater sense of urgency, and were very focused,” Hughes said. “I was super happy we got to play as strong as teams as Penn State and Rider so we could be a little more battle-tested and prepared going into the national tournament. Overall, I was very pleased with how we played, creating national-level habits and momentum.”
Junior Stephen Sanders started the Stevenson game in goal, posting a shutout, before senior Dakota Cyhaniuk allowed two goals in the win over PSU and one against Rider.
All-MACH Tournament senior forward Payton Nash, who eclipsed the 100-point mark for his career on Saturday, netted six goals in the tournament. He scored twice against Stevenson before recording a hat trick against Penn State and scoring the second goal against Rider to give the Flames a 2-0 lead in the second period.
Senior forward Tim Doe also netted two goals against the Mustangs, with freshman wing Luke Tucker and graduate forward Josh Malin adding single scores.
Against the Nittany Lions (14-8-2), senior wing Justin Barstead started the scoring midway through the first period, finishing assists from Doe and sophomore wing Trevor Granzow, before Nash added goals in the first, assisted by freshman defenseman Jared Matley and sophomore defenseman Graham Wood, in the second, set up by sophomore Daniel Hauke, and the third unassisted to cap the scoring.
The Flames were whistled for eight penalties in the physical rematch of a 4-2, 7-2 Liberty sweep Jan. 14-15 at the LaHaye Ice Center.
In the final against Rider, Matley lifted Liberty to a 1-0 lead after the first period before Nash gave the Flames a 2-0 lead in the second before Doe iced the victory with an empty-netter in the closing minute of the third after the Broncs pulled their goalie, trying to net the equalizer with a man advantage.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media