Flames PK stays perfect as Le Sieur pitches shutout in sweep of Blue Hens
Special teams played a significant role in Saturday night’s rematch between Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team and Delaware, with the Flames’ penalty kill unit going a perfect 8-for-8 and their power play capitalizing once in a 3-0 victory at the LaHaye Ice Center.
“Obviously, that was the difference in the game for us was the penalty kill,” Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “Our PK was fantastic tonight. Our guys played their hearts out tonight and battled adversity and injuries and a short lineup. Hats off to our guys. I’m super proud of them. I really thought they battled hard this weekend.”
The Flames (6-0) completed a sweep of their former ESCHL rivals to extend their winning streak against the Blue Hens (3-3) to 17 games to the delight of a Homecoming Weekend crowd. Liberty only outshot Delaware by a 39-37 count, but junior goalie Cédric Le Sieur made 37 saves to preserve the shutout.
“It helps when we’ve got the goalkeeping that we’ve got right now,” Handy said. “Both Cédric and (junior) Hunter (Virostek) have been solid for us in net, for sure.”
Two minutes after killing an early penalty, the Flames netted the game’s first goal with 15:11 left in the first period when freshman forward Jacob Kalandyk skated the puck through the neutral zone and launched a shot from the top of the right circle that got past goalie Corbyn Gustafson underneath the crossbar.
With Liberty on its first power play, Kalandyk struck again at the 11:00 mark, taking a cross-ice pass from senior defenseman Colin Baird at the top of the left circle and skating the puck toward the high slot before zipping a wrist shot inside the top-left corner of the cage.
“That’s kind of my shot right there,” said Kalandyk, who netted his third and fourth goals of the season. “I kind of used my speed to get around and used a defenseman as a screen for the first one and then off the power play, there were a few guys in front and I just kind of picked a corner and shot it overtop of the defense. Their goalie was kind of struggling up top there, so we wanted to test him up top early on and luckily those first two went in.”
The Flames’ penalty kill and Le Sieur stymied the Blue Hens on multiple occasions in the second period, shutting them out on another 5-on-4 in the opening two minutes and back-to-back 5-on-3 opportunities midway through the period.
“(Liberty’s PK unit) just did a great job with our forecheck … not letting (the Blue Hens) get into our zone cleanly, and that was huge,” Le Sieur said. “That 5-on-3 was textbook by our penalty kill. They honestly made my job a lot easier than it looked.”
Spending so much time in the penalty box prevented Liberty’s offense from padding its lead over the second 20 minutes. However, just over 2:00 into the third, Baird set up freshman forward Joe Clark with a pass from the top of the left circle to the high slot, where he lined a low shot through two Delaware defensemen and past Gustafson into the lower left corner for his first goal as a Flame, accounting for the final score.
“Joe (Clark) has waited for an opportunity, gets an opportunity, and goes out and scores,” Handy said. “Colin (Baird) was a tower of strength for us tonight, for sure.”
Le Sieur continued his stellar play through the third period, making a few of stops on one-on-one shots to the chest and a couple sprawling glove saves of shots through traffic, including a point-blank shot in the right crease by Dom Guido.
Still trailing 3-0 with 5:39 remaining in regulation, the Blue Hens spent the next 5:00 on a 5-on-4, but Le Sieur continued to stand on his head, kick saving a wraparound attempt near the right post and a follow-up shot by senior forward Gavin Hulser in the left crease in the first minute and a making a pad save of a shot through the slot in the final minute to preserve the shutout.
“The guys did a great job in front killing the penalties, taking away lanes, letting me see shots from the outside, and letting me control them,” Le Sieur said. “Our forwards were just hassling them the whole time, laying the body, not giving them anything easy. If you’re the other team and you keep get hitting hard like that, you’re going to be scared the next time you get the puck and it showed.”
The No. 3-ranked Flames leave Wednesday on their first road trip of the season over Fall Break, first flying to Minnesota to spend time at FCA Hockey’s headquarters, NorthStar Christian Academy in Alexandria, Minn. They will then travel by bus to Minot, N.D., for an ACHA National Championship semifinal rematch with the fourth-ranked Beavers on Friday and Saturday before challenging No. 11 Jamestown (N.D.) on Monday and Tuesday.
“We’re excited for that,” Handy said. “It will be a great opportunity for our guys to see how they can come together. We’re going to continue working and continue getting better. I’m excited for them.”
“We’re going to have to stay mentally prepared and keep our bodies rested this weekend and get ready to leave Wednesday, to get ready for Minot,” Kalandyk added. “(Minot State is) going to be a higher caliber team, so we’ve just got to stay ready for them. We’re going to be playing Friday and Saturday and then Monday and Tuesday to kind of get us prepared for what nationals is going to be like at the end of the season. It will be a good test for the team to get on the road and see what we’re made of.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer