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    February 17, 2023 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Country and rock ‘n’ roll music blared from the sound system and Sparky, decked out in overalls, fired up Flames fans throughout Friday night’s series opener between Liberty University’s No. 6-ranked ACHA Division I men’s hockey team and No. 4 Ohio University on the first-ever Country Night at the LaHaye Ice Center.

    The country hoedown turned out to be quite the barn-burner as it featured three lead changes and wasn’t decided until overtime, when the Flames (15-10-1) staged a dramatic 3-2 triumph over the Bobcats (25-5-2) that evened the all-time series between the two teams at 18.

    “It was good to see the boys pull together for the win there,” said sophomore defenseman Nate Cox, who scored the game-tying goal late in the third period that forced overtime. “It was definitely a huge win and a big confidence boost for us going into nationals (next month). I think once our guys get rolling, we will keep rolling.”

    Liberty outshot Ohio by a whopping 61-33 margin and senior goalie Hunter Virostek made 31 saves to secure the win.

    “That was a great game to watch and a great game to be a part of,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy added. “I thought our guys played well. We took some penalties we can’t take, though, so we have to clean up that area of our game. But I liked the way we stuck with it, I liked the way we executed our systems tonight. We did a really good job there.”

    With Liberty on a power play, Jason Foltz scored the game’s first goal on a putback of fellow junior forward Jacob Kalandyk’s shot from the left circle that bounced off the pads of Bobcats starting goalie Justin Damon into the right crease. Senior defenseman Colin Baird also assisted that score as he set up the play from the high slot.

    Senior forward Matt Bartel and junior forward Kam Ottenbreit generated quality shorthanded shots on goal before and after Liberty completed a PK. But the Flames couldn’t generate any shots on their ensuing power play and allowed Ohio to tie it up at even strength at the 2:46 mark on a goal by second-leading scorer Laker Aldridge from deep in the right crease.

    With the Flames on the PK to start the second period, Virostek made a kick save of a shot from the slot and Ottenbreit had another shorthanded chance denied by Damon before Liberty killed off the threat. Moments later, DJ Schwenke launched a shot from the left circle and set up fellow junior forward Brett Gammer for another in the slot, but Damon denied both chances.

    Flames foirwards Jason Foltz (40) and Nate Albers helped create a goal against the Bobcats with net traffic.

    Late in the period, the Flames produced a few high-percentage shots on a power play, with Kalandyk striking a post and freshman defenseman Laz Kaebel blasting a slap shot before junior forward Truett Olson had a dangerous putback.

    Ohio ended the second period and started the third on a power play after a controversial call on Schwenke for roughing as he fell onto a Bobcat player on the ice after getting tangled up in the crease.

    The Flames nearly killed that penalty off, but 30 seconds into the third period, Virostek was drawn out of the net and Aldridge swiped the puck from behind the cage and jammed a wraparound shot inside the right post a split second after Virostek returned between the pipes.

    Moments after killing off a penalty, the Flames netted the equalizer when Cox received assists from senior defenseman Tom Nagle and Gammer and unleashed a shot from the right of the blue line that sailed into the upper netting, knotting the score at 2 with 7:16 remaining in regulation.

    “I just had a lane to the net, so I took it,” Cox said. “We had a couple screens; Bladen and Schwenke were in front of the net there and made the goalie not able to see the puck.”

    “That was a huge goal by Cox, taking advantage of net-front traffic,” Handy added. “We changed our lines up a bit, (junior forward Kris) Bladen goes with Schwenke and Gammer and provides that little spark that we need, with those three guys going to net there and generating something for us. All of our lines are going right now.”

    The Flames nearly punched in the game-winner in the closing minutes, but Ottenbreit’s backhanded shot after emerging from a pile of Bobcats who crashed on top of him glanced off the left side of the cage.

    In the 3-on-3 overtime period, Liberty cashed in with the game-winner on the first rush after Baird set it up from behind his own cage and sent an outlet pass to Foltz, who dished it to Kalandyk on the right wing. He worked the puck around a Bobcat defenseman before lifting a wrist shot into the top-right corner of the net over Damon’s glove.

    “Beautiful shot,” Handy said. “Kaly’s a goal-scorer and he showed there why he’s one of the elite (shooters) in the country.”

    Liberty will seek to complete the sweep on its home ice — as the Bobcats had done to start the semester in Ohio — on the fourth annual “Star Wars Night” at 7 p.m. back at the LIC.

    “It’ll be fun,” Handy said. “But we’ll have to be better tomorrow. We’re going to make our game plan to continue to refine what we’re doing and continue to get better, playing against good teams.”

    “We’ve had a rough semester this semester, not winning as many games, but it’s going to be a good home stretch,” Cox added. “I think once we get it dialed in, we’ll be able to put up some more goals and once we get rolling, we’re going to be hard to stop. Hopefully, we’ll have the fans behind us to keep giving us energy and we come out with another win.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media