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    March 20, 2022 Maryland Heights, Mo. RSS |

    Liberty University’s No. 1-ranked ACHA Division I women’s hockey team netted four unanswered goals to break open a 1-1 game midway through the second period and raise its record fourth consecutive and fifth overall National Championship trophy with a 5-1 triumph over Midland (Neb.) University, Sunday afternoon at the Centene Community Ice Center’s USA Arena near St. Louis.

    After huddling for a team prayer and taking their turns skating with the cherished cup over their heads, the Lady Flames proceeded to drench fifth-year Head Coach Chris Lowes — the ACHA DI Women’s Hockey Coach of the Year for the second straight season — with their water bottles, both on the ice and in the locker room, celebrating history with an outpouring of joy.

    In a rematch of the Feb. 27 WMCH Tournament final, the top-seeded Lady Flames (25-0) improved to 10-0 all-time against the No. 2-seeded Warriors (20-7-2) and stretched their ACHA DI-record winning streak to 40 games dating back to a Jan. 23, 2021 loss to Lindenwood University. Liberty defeated the Lions in Saturday’s semifinal round before breaking ties with them for both total national titles and championships in a row on Sunday.

    Lady Flames junior forward Yannick Truter, the ACHA DI Player of the Year who netted a natural hat trick in the 4-2 victory over the Lions, was also named the ACHA DI Tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

    “It was a heck of a game by the girls and I am incredibly proud of the way they finished this season, which was certainly an historic and memorable one,” said Lowes, who pointed to his five graduate students — forwards Shelby Bradford, Vanessa DeMerchant, and Shannon Fehr, and defensemen Dana McLeod and Sally Hoerr, the first four of whom have been a part of the four consecutive crowns — for playing integral roles in the championship run.

    Lady Flames including senior defenseman Aislyn Stretch, who scored the game-winning goal, and sophomore goalie Amanda Storey, who made 25 saves, celebrate their fourth consecutive championship and fifth in seven seasons.

    “In five years since we’ve been here, they haven’t lost a game that matters, in an elimination game, which is pretty amazing,” Lowes added.  “(Assistant) Coach (Justin) Forth and I are super aware of the fact that next year will be our first year at Liberty without those names. It was really important for them to finish strong and win this last one, to complete the undefeated season. We are super proud of the whole team and thankful that our seniors are going out on top.”

    Midway through the first period, Liberty generated a few quality chances on a 5-on-3 power play, with Truter stuffed by Midland goalie Hannah Stone on a putback and DeMerchant striking a post with a shot in the slot. Midland’s Madison Miller came out of the penalty box and was rewarded with a shorthanded breakaway opportunity, but Lady Flames sophomore goalie Amanda Storey (25 saves) made a clutch glove save of her point-blank shot, preserving the shutout.

    The Lady Flames finally finished with 2:04 to play in the first period when freshmen forwards Zosia Adamek and Brielle Fussy stole the puck away from a Warriors defenseman just left of the cage and Fussy sent a cross-crease pass to freshman forward Haley Battles, the WMCH Tournament MVP, who put away the one-timer for a 1-0 Liberty lead.

    “That was an incredible play by Bri, to get that steal, draw the pressure, and make a pass like that for the open goal,” Lowes said. “Once that happened, we are a super confident and dangerous team when we’re playing with the lead.”

    With 13:08 to go in the second period, after a power-play chance by Midland, the Warriors evened the score at 1-1 and the shot totals at 11-11 on a shot by forward Maxine Mass from the right side of the cage, jamming the puck past Storey from close range.

    A slapshot rocketed from the left point by senior defenseman Aislyn Stretch — off an assist off the faceoff from sophomore forward Brityn Fussy — sneaked past Stone through traffic in front and off the post and in for the game-winner, returning the lead to Liberty with 10:59 left in the period.

    “To respond quickly like that after they got their goal is a sign of a veteran team, and it was amazing how quick the confidence comes back,” Lowes said.

    The Lady Flames nearly capitalized again a minute later when Fehr chased down a puck and skated behind the right end line before sending a pass back across the crease to Bradford, whose one-timed shot was blocked by Stone.

    Liberty went on the power play and DeMerchant’s shot from the top of the left circle deflected off the glove of Stone and the crossbar. But in the final seconds of the 5-on-4, Liberty capitalized when DeMerchant’s shot from the left point bounced around the backboards behind the cage to Adamek, who threaded a pass back across the crease to Truter for a one-timed finish and a 3-1 Liberty lead at the 7:22 mark.

    Just 12 seconds into the third period, moments after another power play expired, Fehr received a lead pass from Bradford and extended Liberty’s advantage to 4-1 with a forehanded wrist shot from the center of the left circle.

    “Scoring that goal early in the third period was a dagger,” Lowes said.

    Finally, with 3:05 remaining in regulation, Battles picked up a loose puck in the high slot after a steal by Brielle Fussy and went in for a shot before punching in a putback of a rebound by Fussy for the 5-1 final, and the Lady Flames’ fifth championship in seven seasons.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media

     

    Liberty’s team captains Vanessa DeMerchant, Yannick Truter, Dana McLeod, and Shelby Bradford hoist the championship trophy as their teammates celebrate with joyful hearts and uplifted hands.