DII Flames split with previously unbeaten Icepack before winning shootout for ‘Wagon Wheel’ trophy
Junior forward Josh Wagner distributed three assists to help Liberty University’s ACHA Division II men’s hockey team deal host North Carolina State its first DII defeat, 4-3, on Friday night in front of a rowdy Icepack crowd of more than 1,000 fans at the Wake Competition Center.
NC State (16-1), which had lost to Liberty’s DI team, 8-4 on Sept. 18, won Saturday night’s rematch with the DII Flames, 5-2 at the LaHaye Ice Center, before losing a shootout, 2-1, to determine the winner of the inaugural Wagon Wheel trophy between the two teams.
“They played lights-out and deserved to win tonight,” Liberty Head Coach Ben Hughes said. “Last night, we played much better and we were the better team. It was one of the better games our guys have played, so it is kind of ironic that we both played our best games in the other team’s rink.”
The series between the Southeast Region rivals, ranked No. 1 (Liberty) and 2 (NC State), marked the return of senior goalie Dakota Cyhaniuk, who missed the previous 10 weeks rehabilitating from a dislocated fibula and sprained MCL sustained on a collision in the second period of a Liberty Showcase win over Trine University on Oct. 31.
“I was in the butterfly and their guy got hit and he ran into me and he was a lot bigger than I was, so he hit me pretty hard,” said Cyhaniuk, who made 38 saves in Friday’s victory before saving three of four shots in Saturday’s shootout. “I still think I need to do some conditioning and go over some film to make sure that I’m dialed in because it’s hard coming off of an (injury like that) … getting back into the flow of the game. I don’t think I played my best hockey (but) I think I’ll be able to improve throughout the season as we continue to build up toward (March 14-19 ACHA Division II) Nationals (in St. Louis).”
Freshman forward Luke Tucker, who clinched Saturday’s shootout win with Liberty’s second goal, started the scoring for the Flames on Friday with a power-play goal at the 12:23 mark assisted by Wagner, who then set up senior forward Darren Carter three minutes later for a 2-0 lead.
The Icepack struck back to trim the deficit to 2-1 with 50 seconds left in the first period when Colby Pederson scored off an assist from Chris Solomon. But Liberty seized a 4-1 lead in the second period on goals by senior defenseman Charlie Wilkie assisted by senior forward Tim Doe and Carter’s second score set up by Wagner in the final 22 seconds.
NC State, which outscored Liberty, 41-36, capitalized on a five-on-three power play with 8:37 left in the third period and drew within one goal after pulling its goalie and scoring with 15 seconds remaining in regulation.
In Saturday’s rematch, the Icepack froze the Flames’ attack with a solid defensive effort.
“Blocking shots and everything that they did today was truly unbelievable for them,” Hughes said. “We did have a lot of opportunities offensively, but we couldn’t quite find the net and capitalize.”
Cyhaniuk made a couple of spectacular saves out of the butterfly spread to secure the ensuing shootout win.
“They had some good players come down and they had some good moves, so I’m glad we were able to come out with a win in the shootout and get the trophy for the season series,” he said. “I would have rather won the game, but then when we went into the shootout, I was like, ‘There’s no way I am going to lose this, too.’”
The Flames (16-3) will return to action against Penn State, another Southeast Region rival, this Friday night at 10 p.m. and Saturday at 11:30 a.m. in the LIC.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer