Flames fight back, split series with Saints going into Christmas Break
Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team didn’t show any effects of sleep deprivation after Saturday morning’s “Midnight Mayhem” loss to 10th-ranked Maryville University. The No. 2 Flames came out with renewed energy and plenty of offensive firepower and counterattacks in a 6-1 payback win on Saturday night at the LaHaye Ice Center.
Liberty (13-6) outshot the Saints (13-5) by a 43-33 margin and senior goalie Cédric Le Sieur made 32 saves and earned Star of the Game honors filling in for regular starter and fellow senior Hunter Virostek.
“Cédric was fantastic for us tonight,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “He was a difference-maker, for sure.”
“It was an exciting night,” Le Sieur added. “We needed a big response after (the Midnight Mayhem loss) and it was a lot of fun. It was intense. I felt good. Even if I’m backing up, I always prepare like I’m starting, and yesterday was a perfect example of why I should keep doing that. I’ve been practicing hard all semester, putting in the work, so I’m just happy they gave me that chance and happy it worked out.”
All six of Liberty’s goals came at even strength off the Flames’ second and third lines.
“Hats off to those guys,” Handy said. “When we needed them to respond, they responded well.”
Senior forward Jackson Vercellono gave the Flames’ offense a much-needed boost, matching its total from the 3-2 Game 1 setback by netting two goals in the first seven minutes of Saturday’s rematch. First, at the 17:50 mark, he skated through the left crease and deflected sophomore defenseman Nate Cox’s shot from along the left boards past Maryville goalie Edward Coffey inside the left post.
Then, with 13:04 to play in the first period, junior forward Jacob Kalandyk swiped the puck from Saints winger Sam Edwards along the right boards at the blue line and sneaked a backhanded feed through the right circle to Vercellono cutting into the right crease, where he put a point-blank shot past Coffey.
“There was a lot of energy out on the ice tonight,” Handy said. “It was a good game. I was very proud of our guys. After last night’s performance, our guys wanted a better night and Jackson had two big goals right off the get-go.”
Liberty couldn’t convert on a 5-on-3 toward the end of the first period and Maryville capitalized.
After Le Sieur repelled several quality shots on the Saints’ power play to start the second period, Maryville finally broke through as the teams skated 4-on-4 when Jake Chartier took an entry pass between two defensemen in the slot and slipped a backhander through the five hole. That trimmed the deficit to 2-1 with 12:24 left in the second period, but unlike in Friday night’s opener, Liberty responded with two goals of its own in the final 3:55 of the frame.
Senior forward Josh Fricks padded the lead to 3-1 after taking a pass from sophomore defenseman Colten Kovich at the top of the left circle. He skated backwards along the outside edge of the circle before ripping a sharp-angled wrist shot from near the left endline inside the upper right post.
Then, with 1:18 to go, senior forward Matt Bartel received feeds from Fricks and junior forward Jason Foltz in front and tucked a backhander around Saints goalie Johnny Massara, giving the Flames some breathing room going into the second intermission.
The Flames put the Saints away with two goals by Foltz in the final 8:42 of the third period, the first on a putback of a loose puck chipped across the crease by Bartel off an entry pass from senior defenseman Tom Nagle. Then, after Liberty junior forward Nate Albers was ejected for a hard check that sparked a fight along the back boards, Foltz received an assist from junior forward Kam Ottenbreit and skated through the slot unchecked before lifting an easy top-shelf wrist shot finish with 2:22 left. He received a late hit from Saints head captain Jack Harrison before he had a chance to celebrate the score, which contributed to a few more scuffles down the stretch, including one between Massara and Le Sieur on the opposite end.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to answer the call,” Le Sieur said. “That one was more just for fun. He came up to me and he wanted it, so I obliged. For them, it was just tempers boiling up and it culminated with that. It’s just how the game went and that’s just part of the game sometimes.”
He credited Albers for stoking the Flames and raising the level of intensity of the contest to avoid any letdowns.
“Albers loves to get nitty-gritty and that’s why we love him,” Le Sieur said. “He goes to those dirty areas where some guys might not want to go and he’s always there to lead the way in physicality.”
Handy said after getting through their final exams, the team will have more than a month to prepare for the spring semester-opening series at Ohio on Jan. 13-14.
“Christmas break comes at a great time,” he said. “That allows us to heal up and gives us some time to get ready for the second semester and to make a big push (toward nationals).”
“It was a great way to end the semester, to get to go home without the bitter taste of a loss,” Le Sieur added. “It’s going to be a fun second semester. We don’t really have any off weekends, so we’re going to have to show up every single weekend and perform. That sets us up in a great spot, by playing those top teams that we’ll have to beat at nationals.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media