Flames fend off Blue Hens, continue series dominance by winning 18th meeting in a row
Liberty University’s No. 4-ranked ACHA Division I men’s hockey team defeated former ESCHL rival Delaware, ranked No. 25, for the 18th consecutive time on Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center, with a depleted defensive corps anchored by head captain Colin Baird and fellow senior Tom Nagle holding the ranks in a 6-3 triumph.
“We were down to four defensemen and one was (sophomore Rece) Poulin, who came up from Division II and played very well for us tonight,” Head Coach Kirk Handy said after the Flames improved to 9-4 with their fourth win in a row. “Hats off to a lot of our guys who gutted out awesome performances tonight. (Junior goalie) Cédric (Le Sieur) had a good game for us tonight, he played well.”
Le Sieur, who made 26 saves as he showcased his quick reflexes with his glove and feet, will start Saturday’s rematch as well.
Offensively, freshman forward Sam Feamster ended a scoreless tie with 7:32 left in the opening period when he received a pass from sophomore forward Joe Clark and sneaked a sharp-angled shot through Delaware goalie Jacob Snellenburg for a 1-0 Liberty lead.
“Feamster scores a nice goal for us,” Handy said. “Nice play by Joe Clark, and Feamster has had a couple good games for us in a row. It’s encouraging.”
Then, with 22 seconds left in the period, senior forward Josh Fricks skated the puck in from the right point and rifled a wrist shot from the high slot into the top-left corner, doubling the Flames advantage to 2-0 going into the first intermission.
Delaware (8-5) struck first in the second period by capitalizing on a costly turnover in the defensive end. Le Sieur sent a pass from behind the cage into the corner where a Blue Hen forward stole the puck from a Flames defenseman and set up an open wrist shot in the slot by forward Nathan Reichel, who ripped it top shelf.
But just a minute later, Truett Olson tucked a putback of fellow junior linemate Jacob Kalandyk’s stealthy turnaround shot from the high slot into the top left corner, padding Liberty’s lead to 3-1 at the 12:54 mark.
“We let them back into it, but Olson’s line has been a solid line for us all year and scored that goal with Truett out front on a quick response,” Handy said.
Then, with 7:34 to go, senior forward Josh Fricks received a pass from junior forward Jason Foltz and launched a shot from the high slot that DJ Schwenke, skating in front, deftly deflected past Snellenburg.
The Blue Hens again cut the deficit in half on Brian Ostrander’s putback in the right slot of a shot by Reichel with 4:20 left in the period before Le Sieur made clutch saves of a shot and point-blank follow in the left crease to help the Flames complete a penalty kill moments later.
Liberty quickly converted on another power play off assists from Foltz and Fricks, this time with a tic-tac-toe pass sequence capped by a cross-crease feed from Foltz to senior forward and alternate captain Matt Bartel for a one-timed shot in the right circle for a 5-2 advantage with 1:52 to play in the second.
Delaware trimmed the Flames’ lead to 5-3 with 16:03 remaining in regulation when Ryan Luppe cashed in on another power play with a shot from the right crease that flipped off Le Sieur’s glove.
Moments after killing another penalty, Liberty delivered an insurance score when senior forward Jackson Vercellono maneuvered skillfully around a Delaware defenseman in the high slot and left the puck for Kalandyk, who threaded a wrist shot from the slot past a defenseman and Snellenburg for a 6-3 advantage at the 7:57 mark.
The Flames outshot the Blue Hens by a 61-29 margin and finished two out of five power-play opportunities but couldn’t convert on a 5-on-3 late in the third.
“We didn’t play a good third period,” Handy said. “I wasn’t happy with the third period, which wasn’t to our satisfaction. We have to be better. That’s going to be a big focus of ours (in Saturday night’s rematch). We have to play 60 minutes. We played 40 minutes very well tonight. I liked what we were doing on the offensive end, putting pucks on net.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media