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    March 18, 2023 Marlborough, Mass. RSS |

    Liberty University’s ACHA Division II men’s hockey team, seeded No. 1 in its pool, battled back to tie No. 4-seeded Iowa twice, in the first and third periods, before allowing the Hawkeyes to net the game-winner with 7:44 remaining in regulation of a 3-2 setback, Friday night on Rink 8 at the New England Sports Complex near Boston.

    The loss in the opening round of the ACHA DII National Championships puts the Flames (26-5-3) in a hole as they seek to qualify for Monday’s Final Four, needing Iowa (19-3-1) to lose one of its last two games of pool play for Liberty to have a chance to advance. The Flames face No. 3-seeded Utah State — a 5-0 loser to No. 2-seeded Northeastern on Friday afternoon — in Saturday’s second round, with the puck dropping at 5:15 p.m. back on Rink 8.

    Liberty players try to dig the puck out from the edge of the boards in the closing seconds of Friday’s loss.

    “We’re in the same spot as we were last year,” Liberty Head Coach Ben Hughes said. “If we had won the last game last year, we would have moved on. If we can put ourselves in a position to win the last game to move on, we’ve done everything we could do.”

    He said the Flames, who hadn’t played an official game in more than a month after receiving an autobid out of the Southeast Region, did not show their true identity in the opener.

    “We’re still looking for a little bit of experience,” Hughes said, noting that the team features 10 freshmen competing in their first national tournament and another eight sophomores on a 23-man roster. “We just need to realize it’s a really tight game — not only are the rink conditions a little tighter on top of you, but it’s a tighter brand of hockey, and we weren’t very tight with the puck tonight. Overall, it was our decision-making and puck management, we just didn’t manage the puck as well as we should have tonight.”

    Iowa struck first at the 9:00 mark of the first period when forward Garet Grady finished a feed from defenseman Logan Corneil before Liberty capitalized on a power-play opportunity to tie the contest 2:09 before the first intermission when sophomore wing David Hauke put away a pass from sophomore forward Rece Poulin.

    Graduate defensman Alex Norwinski checks an Iowa player in the high slot.

    The Hawkeyes reclaimed the lead 27 seconds into the second period when defenseman Brian Raffone scored off an assist from forward Zachary Lupori. They held the edge through the second intermission. before Flames freshman forward Thomas Kayner converted a putback off assists from sophomore forward Joshus Sherwood and graduate defenseman Alex Norwinski with 17:03 to play in the third.

    Junior forward Roman Lamoureux nearly gave the Flames their first lead midway through the frame, but his shot from the slot glanced off the post and bounced out of the cage.

    “We hit three or four posts tonight,” Hughes said. “The chances were there, and everybody was doing a good job, but we weren’t who we truly are tonight.”

    Iowa’s formidable forechecking helped to set up its third and final goal when Raffone picked up the puck off the back boards and threaded a pass into forward Jake Carlson in front where he slid his point-blank shot through the five-hole of Liberty sophomore goalie Lane Skon, the Southeast Region Player of the Year.

    Head Coach Ben Hughes looks on as the Flames try to rally for a second time in the third period.

    “We had the majority of possession and we had a lot of really good chances; they just took advantage of the little things that we’d give them,” Hughes said. “We didn’t give them much, but what we did give them they took advantage of. We did not look past them at all. They’re a Central team and anytime you play a Central team, they’re going to be a heavy and a hard team to play against.”

    Liberty outshot Iowa by a 27-26 count and Skon made 23 saves to 25 for Hawkeyes 6-foot, 5-inch goalie Justin Howard.

    “They just had a heavier game,” he added. “They played more to their identity, not even tactically, but also culturally, they were just more aligned with who they were tonight than we were.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

    Hawkeyes players and coaches join the Flames’ post-game prayer huddle.