Flames erupt for five first-period goals in 10-1 triumph over Blue Hens
Liberty University’s No. 3-ranked ACHA Division I men’s hockey team welcomed back many alumni in town for Homecoming Weekend with an offensive fireworks show inside the LaHaye Ice Center on Friday night, dominating former ESCHL rival Delaware, 10-1, for their 16th consecutive win against the No. 24 Blue Hens.
“It’s great having Homecoming Weekend being able to put up a win like that in front of alumni, to show them that our hockey game keeps getting better every year,” said freshman forward Jackson Vercellono, who netted his first hat trick for the Flames. “I’m just really happy to be a Flame and excited for the next years to come and many more games. I’m really happy. A lot of our guys did well. It was a real team effort win tonight.”
Less than four minutes after the opening faceoff, sophomore forward Jason Foltz won the puck in the Blue Hens’ right corner to Vercellono along the back boards where he distributed his sixth assist of the season, spotting fellow freshman forward Aleksandr Charin cutting down the slot for a top-shelf finish over Delaware goalie Corbyn Gustafson at the 16:11 mark.
“It was a great start,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “Alek Charin, a guy who came in as a forward and we put him back on (defense) because of our short numbers back there, comes in and scores a real nice goal, nice place by Jackson to throw it out front.”
“In our locker room, all we talked about was, ‘Hey, we want to get a quick start,’” Vercellono added. “We kind of felt slow the past games we’ve played, so we wanted to just come right from the get-go and show them, ‘Hey, we’re here for business, and we’re not going to let up.’”
Seconds into the game’s first power play, with 15:45 to go in the first period, freshman forward Jacob Kalandyk controlled the puck at the top of the left circle and fed junior forward Brett Gammer near the end line, where he skated the puck across the crease and beat Gustafson inside the right post, doubling Liberty’s lead to 2-0.
Gammer skated the puck from right to left behind the net toward the left corner where he sent the puck off the skate of Delaware defenseman Jay Luce behind Gustafson for a 3-0 Flames advantage, prompting the Blue Hens to call a time out at the 14:03 mark.
Moments after the Flames killed off a Blue Hens power play, senior defenseman Colin Baird took a pass from Vercellono the top of the left circle where he launched a missile of a shot that Vercellono, skating across the slot, deflected past Gustafson, extending the Flames’ lead to 4-0 with 6:41 to play in the first period.
“(Baird) took a slapper and I just put my stick up and kind of tracked it after working on that with coaches this week in practice, and it just worked out,” Vercellono said.
Then, with Liberty back on the penalty kill, junior forward Matt Bartel intercepted a Delaware outlet pass in the left circle and skated in one-on-one with Gustafson before beating him shorthanded through the five-hole for a commanding 5-0 Flames lead with 3:11 still to play in the first period.
Liberty struck twice more in the second period, both early and late. Just over a minute in, Kalandyk’s fadeaway shot from inside the left circle bounced off the back boards right to Foltz who finished the putback from near the left post with 18:53 to play.
Blue Hens freshman forward Luke Dosen finally ended the shutout on a one-on-one breakaway with 3:40 left in the period, lifting a wrist shot over the glove of Flames junior goalie Hunter Virostek (23 saves) from deep in the right crease.
But the Flames responded with 1:01 remaining in the stanza by capitalizing on another power play when Foltz skated the puck from along the left boards into the Delaware circle and sent a short pass to Vercellono near the left end line for a one-time finish that stretched the edge to 7-1 going into the second intermission.
Then, just six seconds into a five-minute major penalty assessed to the Blue Hens 5:32 into the third period, sophomore forward Kam Ottenbreit put away a backhanded feed from Bartel, who had gathered a putback of Baird’s shot from the point, and snuck the puck inside the left post and just across the plane of the goal for an 8-1 advantage.
A minute and a half into the 5-on-4, freshman forward Truett Olson controlled an outlet pass from sophomore forward DJ Schwenke along the left boards and sent an entry feed into Vercellono, who completed his hat trick with a beautiful sharp-angled backhander into the upper netting, making it 9-1 with 12:57 left in the third.
“Jackson (Vercellono) played really well for us,” Handy said. “Brett Gammer had a really solid game for us. Brett, Schwenke, and Bartel have led for us up front this year. Bartsy and Brett both had two goals tonight and any game you score five power-play goals, you know you’re doing something right. We killed off all the PKs and scored a shorthanded one.”
Moments later, Bartel received a give-and-go pass back from Baird and ripped a shot from the high slot into the top-right corner of the cage, for the third goal in the five-minute man advantage and the final score of the game with 11:15 to go.
Handy said a key to the Flames’ success was staying out of the penalty box, as well as outshooting the Blue Hens, 55-24.
“Our guys kept their emotions in check tonight and we weren’t killing (penalties) the whole night,” he said. “It was a solid night and a nice win for us tonight, but we’ve got to reset for (Saturday). We know we’re going to have to be even better tomorrow and we want to continue to build as a program.”
Former Flames players will gather for a reception at 7 p.m. in the large conference room in the front of the LIC before Saturday’s 8 p.m. rematch on the ice.
“I’m super looking forward to it,” Handy said. “I want to make sure they know how thankful I am and how thankful these current players are of what they’ve done for us and the opportunity they have given our players to be in their situation because of the groundwork that they have laid.”
He is excited to reconnect with alumni dating back to the inaugural season in 1984 and express his appreciation for their contributions over the years.
“I really think it’s not only on the ice, it’s off the ice with their faith and the way they’ve represented our program,” Handy said. “That’s super important.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media