DII Flames upset top-ranked teams in Southeast, Central regions over weekend in Ohio
Liberty University’s ACHA Division II men’s hockey team, ranked No. 2 in the Southeast Region, has started 2023 with five straight wins, including three over the weekend in a challenging showcase at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio,
“This weekend, it was really timely for us to come together as a group, early this second semester,” Liberty Head Coach Ben Hughes said. “We have been battle-tested, and we haven’t had a perfect record, but we have gotten better every game and the core leadership has gotten stronger.”
The area was blanketed by half of foot of snow by Saturday, but it didn’t stop the Flames (22-4-1) from defeating three teams ranked in the top three in their respective regions — Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU, ranked No. 1 in the Southeast Region and No. 4 in ACHA DII), 4-3 in overtime late Friday night, the host RedHawks ((18-7-1, ranked No. 3 in the Southeast), 6-2 on Saturday night, and Lindenwood (Mo.) University (ranked No. 1 in the Central and No. 3 in the nation) on Sunday afternoon, 3-2, ending the Lions’ 15-game winning streak.
“It was awesome,” Hughes said, noting he will be interested to see if the Flames surpass FGCU in the new Southeast Region rankings set to come out on Thursday. “We had huge, massive, very hard games this weekend against a few of the top teams in the country, so we were really excited. We had this weekend marked on our calendar, because we were playing two teams we were chasing.”
The Flames overcame a 3-1 deficit to edge FGCU on Friday, tying the game with two power-play goals in the third period.
“We tightened up and made some adjustments in the third period, and the guys just executed on both ends,” Hughes said.
Graduate defenseman and alternate captain Alex Norwinski netted both the tying goal midway through the third period and the game-winner just 1:05 into the 5-minute, 3-on-3, sudden-death overtime period.
“Alex had the puck in the zone, sent a pass off the wall to (freshman defenseman) Nathan Mulder as he was walking down the slot to take a shot, and he went back door to Alex, who caught the puck and buried it,” Hughes said.
Freshman forward Thomas Kayner scored the Flames’ first two goals against FGCU before netting the first goal in the first period and assisting the go-ahead goal in the second and game-winning goal with 9:05 to go in the third period of Sunday’s showdown with Lindenwood.
On the game-winner, freshman forward Richard Indermill received a breakout pass and fed it to Kayner in the neutral zone, where he worked a two-on-one break with sophomore center Roman Lamoureux.
“Roman was going backdoor and took the pass from Kayner and lifted a forehand over the goalie’s right pad,” Hughes said.
The Lions had eliminated Liberty in the final game of pool play at last season’s ACHA DII National Championships in St. Louis, preventing the Flames from reaching the “Frozen Four.”
“Lindenwood is so smart and disciplined … you have to be really engaged and focused for 60 minutes to play them,” Hughes said. “What we had to do a lot of this weekend was to weather the storm. We played with resiliency. We were pretty consistent, offensively, and had some really timely saves by our goalies. (Sophomore) Lane (Skon) played incredible today, and probably made the save of the year today in the second period.”
After making only 19 saves in the opener against FGCU, Skon finished with 40 saves against Lindenwood. Senior Stephen Sanders recorded the win in Saturday’s game against Miami (Ohio), when the Flames got two goals from sophomore forward Jared Matley and single scores from sophomore forwards Daniel Hauke and Josh Harrell as well as junior forward Cooper Neal and freshman center Josh Martin.
“Everyone did their jobs and played their roles this weekend,” Hughes said. “We had great team wins, with all different lines contributing, which was great. The best part about weekends like this, besides playing top teams, is the structure of ACHA Nationals for DII is you play three games in a row and if you win your pool, you play a fourth and fifth game. You are using different guys in your lineup and everyone is getting involved, which is good training for nationals.”
The Flames return to the LaHaye Ice Center to play two Northeast Region teams — Keene State (N.H., ranked fifth) this Friday and Saturday at 4:30 p.m., and Bentley (Mass., ranked sixth) on Feb. 3-4. Then, they will conclude the regular season with three games at Northeast opponents Keene State on Feb. 10, top-ranked UMass on Feb. 11, and RPI (N.Y.) on Feb. 12.
They will then have a month to prepare for the March 16-21 ACHA DII National Championships in Marlborough, Mass.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer