Flames blast top-ranked Beavers, ending their 11-game stretch of success in series
Liberty University’s sixth-ranked ACHA Division I men’s hockey team recorded a monumental 5-1 victory over Minot State, the No. 1 team in the nation, late Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center. The Flames ended an 11-game losing skid against the Beavers that dated back to February 2015.
“It’s definitely the biggest win of the year,” Liberty forward Josh Fricks said in the tunnel after the game. He came up from Atlanta with his family to celebrate Senior Weekend after spending the past few weeks at the Shepherd Center rehabilitating from his spinal cord injury suffered in the Jan. 21 shootout setback to UNLV at the LIC. “Before the game, we talked about our two wins against (then-No. 1) Adrian a few years ago and how big of a deal they were and we’d like to do the same thing this weekend. I told them I didn’t drive all the way here to watch them suck, and they came through.”
Fricks plans to stay for Saturday’s rematch, as one of the Flames’ eight seniors who will be honored before the 7 p.m. puck drop.
“It was fun to be back with my brothers,” he said. “I just kind of walked around and made jokes the whole time and tried to lighten the mood the best that I could. It’s crazy seeing God’s work in my life and everyone’s prayers. I am thankful to be able to wake up every day and see them being answered first-hand. It’s been awesome.”
The team played inspired hockey with Fricks and family back in the house, fueled by a College For A Weekend (CFAW) crowd.
“Our guys played well,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “That’s a good effort tonight. We’re proud of our guys. They battled hard tonight, the way that we want them to play and that’s important for us. We’ve got to be ready to play them again and we’ve got to be better tomorrow than we were today.”
Following a 10 p.m. opening faceoff, Minot State (28-3) outshot Liberty (16-11-1) by a 37-28 margin, but senior goalie Hunter Virostek stood on his head to enable the Flames to come out on top, making 36 saves.
“Hunter played great in net,” Handy said. “He’s been solid for us all year and he was fantastic tonight.”
The Flames struck first with 7:49 remaining in the first period when junior forward Kam Ottenbreit gathered a rebound of sophomore defenseman Nate Cox’s shot from the point along the back boards and sent an entry pass into junior forward and second-leading scorer Jason Foltz in the right crease, where he one-timed a shot past Minot State goalie Jake Anthony inside the left post.
Then, at the 6:48 mark, freshman forward Sam Feamster won a faceoff in the left offensive circle back to freshman defenseman Reid Bogenholm who sent a pass across the blue line to sophomore defenseman Colten Kovich. There, Kovich launched a low shot from the high slot through traffic that deflected off a skate inside the left post, doubling the Flames’ advantage to 2-0.
Virostek made a series of clutch saves in the final 20 seconds to keep the Beavers off the scoreboard before making a couple more stops of point-blank shots early in the second, when Minot maintained its offensive pressure.
The Flames capitalized on a bit of a fluky goal with 14:16 left in the period when freshman defenseman Grant Morton’s pass across the slot bounced off the boot of senior forward Jackson Vercellono on its edge right to sophomore forward Truett Olson for a quick backhanded finish inside the right post.
With 5:15 to play in the second, the Flames stretched their advantage to 4-0 on a phenomenal shot by junior forward and leading scorer Jacob Kalandyk, who skated the puck through the right circle before lifting a delayed wrist shot from the right crease into the top-left corner of the cage.
The Flames struck again just 47 seconds before the second intermission after Vercellono won a right-circle faceoff and pursued the puck around the back of the cage, eventually taking a return pass from Olson and threading a feed from the backboards to Kalandyk, who unleashed a spectacular wrist shot from the left circle into the top-right corner of the net.
“That Kalandyk-Olson-Vercellono line had a couple goals and I liked the looks of the (Brett) Gammer-Feamster-Schwenke line, too,” Handy said. “All the lines played well.”
Virostek continued to have a golden glove in the third period, keeping the Beavers off the scoreboard with several saves of high-percentage shots before finally letting one up on a power play score by Minot forward Christian Kadolph with just over two minutes remaining in regulation.
“They got us on our heels a bit in the third after we came out and played a good first and a good second period,” Handy said. “That’s an opportunity for us to get better in tomorrow. We obviously want to continue to improve and to push forward here.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media