DIII Flames sweep Captains to clinch No. 1 seed for this weekend’s ACCHL Tournament
In its final regular-season series, Liberty University’s College Hockey Federation (CHF) Division III men’s hockey team dominated Christopher Newport University over the weekend, outshooting the Captains 58-26 in Saturday’s 6-2 victory and 63-11 in Sunday’s 6-0 rematch win at the LaHaye Ice Center (LIC).
Graduate forward and alternate captain Jerrell Campbell started and ended the scoring for the Flames in the first game. He finished feeds from freshman forward Luke Bessire and junior forward and head captain Jaime Ross to give Liberty a 1-0 lead with 4:04 left in the first period and later extended it to 6-1 just over a minute into the third period by capitalizing off assists from freshman wing Eric Abbatte and Ross.
In between, Ross scored with 2 seconds to go in the first period to double Liberty’s lead to 2-0 by putting away passes from junior forward Christian Kline and freshman defenseman Benjamin Wines and the Flames added three goals in the second period. Senior wing William Fortugno converted assists from sophomore forward Michael Williams and freshman defenseman Jeb Boring for the game-winner with 17:17 left in the second stanza before Williams finished feeds from Kline and senior defenseman Jordan Chamberlain at the 12:40 mark and freshman wing Carson Desmarais scored a power-play goal off an assist from junior center Johnny Kettelle.
“We were getting contributions from all four lines,” Flames Head Coach Josh Graham said. “Everyone’s been playing well and we’ve been getting some timely goals. Our fourth line with (freshman) Randy (Plaisance) and (juniors) Christian (Kline) and Andrew (Pascarella) have scored four or five goals in the last four games. When you can get contribution from your fourth line, that really helps.”
Sophomore goalie Kyle Wesbury made 24 saves in recording the win.
In Sunday’s rematch, Senior Day for Fortugno and forward Mike Eisaman, and Chamberlain, the Flames outshot CNU 17-2 in the first period and 27-1 in the second, getting goals from Desmarais — the game winner at the 6:19 mark of the first and on a power play with 10:37 left in the second — to seize a 2-0 lead. Liberty only outshot the Captains, 19-8, in the third period, but added four goals — the first by Chamberlain, assisted by Campbell and Eisaman, and last by Eisaman on a power play with 2 seconds remaining off assists from Kline and Campbell — to complete the sweep with authority.
Fogarty (on a power play) and Ross also scored in the third, when graduate goalie Clayton Pierce made eight of his 11 saves to preserve his third shutout in his past four starts.
“Our special teams units have been doing really well,” Graham said. “We scored five power-play goals this weekend and have not given up a power-play goal in the last six games. Our PK unit struggled early in the season, but we made some adjustments over (Christmas) Break that have been paying off, and we’ve been pretty successful winning the special teams battles, which has allowed us to continue the run we’re on right now.”
The Flames (13-6-1, 8-3) jumped from the No. 3 to the No. 1 seed for this weekend’s ACCHL Tournament at the LIC after extending their winning streak to seven games. CNU (9-4, 7-3) slipped to No. 2 in the standings, with East Carolina (7-4) securing the No. 3 seed followed by No. 4 Coastal Carolina (4-1-1), No. 5 High Point (3-8-2), No. 6 College of Charleston (3-3), No. 7 West Virginia, and No. 8 Maryland.
“The guys have been playing so consistently,” Graham said. “We’ve had to win in a couple different ways, to grind out some games (late in the fall semester and early in the spring), and in the last four games, we have put over 250 shots on net. Now we’ve got to find that next level and keep dialing things in and make sure we’re in a good spot to be successful in the postseason.”
Liberty will face the Terrapins on Friday at 1:30 p.m. with an autobid to the March 18-23 CHF National Championships at Ice Line Quad Rinks in West Chester, Pa., on the line. The tournament will be reseeded after the first round with the highest remaining seed meeting the lowest in one of Saturday’s semifinals and the two middle seeds squaring off in the other and the winners meeting in Sunday’s 1 p.m. final.
“From seeds Nos. 2 through 6, there are going to be a lot of chances for upsets, so it is going to be interesting to see what happens,” Graham said. “Coastal Carolina is defending ACCHL Tournament champion after it beat us in 2021. Christopher Newport was the inaugural champion in the spring of 2019 (when the league added Division III).”
The CHF, which has attracted nearly 100 ACHA DIII teams over the past three years, will be holding its first national championships next month, with 32 teams from seven conferences.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer