Flames fine-tune for nationals by outshooting Saints, 34-9, in 4-1 regular-season-ending win
Acclimated to playing past primetime following a record three “Midnight Mayhem” matchups this season, Liberty University’s No. 5-ranked ACHA Division I men’s hockey team adjusted to playing before noon — as it will in Saturday’s National Championships opener against No. 12 Illinois set for 10:15 a.m. (CST) — with Tuesday’s regular-season-ending matchup against Maryville University, which started at 11 a.m. (CST).
“It was fantastic from that standpoint,” Head Coach Kirk Handy said after the Flames’ 4-1 victory over the No. 14 Saints in a shortened contest played in the Maryville University Hockey Center in Chesterfield, Mo. “On our end, it was an opportunity just to go out and play a game against a quality team, since we haven’t played in a couple weeks. Our guys played well overall today and it was a great step forward for us.”
The simulated game featured three 11½-minute periods, rather than the regulation 20. Liberty held a commanding 34-9 advantage in shots on goal as goalie Hunter Virostek, who played the first two periods, only needed to make two saves before fellow junior Cédric Le Sieur stopped six of the Saints’ seven shot attempts in the third period.
Offensively, the Flames used the contest as a final tune-up for nationals and were firing on all cylinders, with sophomore forward Kris Bladen starting the scoring with an unassisted goal in the first period before freshman forward Jackson Vercellono capitalized on a power play in the third period off assists from senior forward Josh Fricks and junior defenseman Cam Kuhl. Later in the third, freshman forward Jacob Kalandyk scored off assists from Bladen and senior forward Devin Melice before Kam Ottenbreit capped the scoring for the Flames in the closing minute by finishing a feed from fellow sophomore forward DJ Schwenke.
“Our approach to it was ‘Let’s play today’s game like we want to at nationals, make sure we have the focus and be intentional about what we’re doing,’” Handy said. “That is a priority for us, to make sure the guys are confident in what they are doing and the way that they approach the game. Overall, all of our lines were working hard and doing the things we wanted to do. We have confidence in every single guy, whether or not they’re in the starting lineup.”
Liberty will practice on Wednesday and Thursday at 10:15 a.m. (CST) back at the Maryville Hockey Center before moving its operations to the Centene Community Ice Center — the NHL’s St. Louis Blues’ practice facility in Maryland Heights, Mo., which will host all five divisions of the ACHA National Championships — for a practice on Friday at noon (CST). That will be the Flames’ final workout before they face the Fighting Illini on Saturday morning.
“We know the national tournament will be a different atmosphere,” Handy said. “Illinois is a quality opponent and we are looking forward to the game.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer