Flames outskated by NCAA Division I Seawolves in 9-1 opening loss in Las Vegas
A sluggish start by Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team set the tone for Thursday night’s 9-1 setback against the University of Alaska Anchorage at City National Arena, the practice facility for the Las Vegas Golden Knights, as the Flames slipped to 1-3 against NCAA Division I programs.
Head Coach Kirk Handy said the Flames had adjusted to the three-hour time zone difference after arriving in Las Vegas on Tuesday, but there was a learning curve on the ice as they faced their first NCAA DI opponent since splitting a series against first-year Long Island University at the LaHaye Ice Center on Oct. 1-2, 2021.
“We were back on our heels at the beginning of the game, and it took us a little while to adjust to the speed of the game,” he said. “There have been a couple games recently where we haven’t started well and we’ve got to change that (on Friday),” in the first game of a weekend series against UNLV.
Alaska Anchorage, which netted two third-period goals to edge the host Rebels on the same ice, 3-1 on Wednesday night, struck first just 57 seconds after the opening faceoff when Ben Almquist sent a cross-crease pass to Caleb Hite for a one-timed finish past Liberty senior goalie Hunter Virostek. Almquist assisted the Seawolves’ second goal with a circle-to-circle feed from left to right and blast by Conor Cole past Flames freshman defenseman Laz Kaebel for a 2-0 advantage at the 11:10 mark.
Seawolves freshman forward Matt Johnson then stole the puck from Liberty senior forward Jackson Vercellono at the red line and skated into the high slot before dishing to defenseman Max Osborne in the left circle where his shot sneaked past Virostek to make it 3-0 with 8:38 left in the first.
With 2:49 to play in the first period, UAA freshman forward Alex Gomez started a fast break out by skating the puck out of his own corner before sending a pass to William Gilson. He skated up the left wing before sending a backhanded entry pass from the left circle into Jarred White for a redirected wrist shot that stretched the Seawolves’ lead to 4-0.
As quickly as it started the scoring in the first period, UAA opened the second-period scoring even faster when Matt Kinash picked up a loose puck at the red line along the left boards and skated through the neutral zone before threading a shot from the left circle past Virostek’s glove and inside the right post, extending the edge to 5-0 at the 19:30 mark.
Then, with 10:28 to go in the period, Cole’s second goal — on a slapshot off a faceoff win by Almquist in the left circle — ended Virostek’s night, trailing 6-0.
Max Helgeson received fellow forward Matt Allen’s outlet pass from center ice and skated from the top of the left circle across to the high slot where he launched a wrist shot past senior goalie Cédric Le Sieur with 7:25 left in the second.
The Flames finally lit up the scoreboard when freshman forward Sam Feamster set up their only goal with a fantastic wraparound pass across the crease to sophomore forward Aleksandr Charin for a one-timed finish on the right side past Seawolves freshman goalie Jared Whale with 8:39 remaining in regulation.
Alaska answered less than a minute later, however, when Cole sent a pass to Hite for a shot from the left circle before Almquist potted the point-blank putback past Le Sieur to pad the Seawolves’ lead to 8-1 with 7:51 to go. UAA defenseman Derek Hamelin capped the scoring with a wide-open wrist shot in the left circle that beat Le Sieur to the upper netting with 3:26 left.
The Seawolves outshot the Flames by a 62-16 margin for the contest.
“It was a great experience and opportunity to play (against UAA),” Handy said. “For us, we can take and learn from tonight’s game and use it to be better as we move forward. One thing I liked, was as the game went on, our guys got more into the flow of the game and gained some confidence and competed, which are positives we want to take into tomorrow. We started to adjust to the speed and I thought our guys finished well in the third period, which was our best period of hockey.”
Another bright spot for Liberty was its penalty kill was successful in silencing all three of the Seawolves’ man advantages, while the Flames went 0-for-1 on the power play.
“We’ve got to put this game past us and move forward to tomorrow and focus on getting back to our winning ways,” Handy said. “We need to continue to move forward. Absolutely. we’re going to be ready to go (on Friday night). The biggest thing for us is we want to have a better start and make sure we are ready to go at the drop of the puck.”
The series opener against UNLV, as well as Saturday’s second game, will be streamed live on the Rebels’ YouTube Channel, starting at 10:30 p.m. EST.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer