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    January 28, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Sophomore forwards Jason Foltz and Kam Ottenbreit and senior forward Matt Bartel each netted two goals to spark the Flames’ attack as Liberty University’s No. 3-ranked ACHA Division I men’s hockey team ended No. 4 UNLV’s 16-game winning streak with a 7-4 victory, Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center.

    “Both of those guys (Ottenbreit and Foltz) had two beautiful shots,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “Give UNLV credit. They battled back and made it 5-4 (early in the third period). We love playing these games this time of the year because it teaches us what it’s going to take to continue to build and become a strong team heading down the stretch here. It’s part of our refinement.”

    UNLV (20-4) struck first less than six minutes into the first period, after Liberty junior goalie Hunter Virostek’s clear from behind the cage around the corner wound up on the stick of Rebels Brendan Manning. He put a shot directly on net that glanced off the skates of Virostek right to Paxton Malone for a point-blank putback and a 1-0 UNLV lead.

    The Flames (17-5) put plenty of pressure on the Rebels’ penalty kill unit on their first power play opportunity midway through the period, with graduate defenseman Chaydan Lauber providing traffic in the crease and narrowly missing a finish in front.

    “Our power play was really strong today, moving the puck well and having a really good shot selection,” Handy said.

    Liberty didn’t waste any time capitalizing on its second power-play chance, with Foltz finishing off a feed from senior forward Josh Fricks eight seconds in with 3:57 left in the period. Foltz, Liberty’s leading scorer with 32 points, skated through the right circle, deking around a defenseman with a toe drag before lifting a fantastic wrist shot inside the left post, breaking his stick on the play and tossing it to the ice.

    Less than a minute later, the Flames seized a 2-1 lead when junior forward Brett Gammer started a counterattack along the right boards before setting up Ottenbreit deep in the right circle, where he flicked a backhanded wrist shot into the top right shelf with 3:05 to play in the period. The puck bounced out of the cage, but it was ruled a goal after an official overrule.

    UNLV was called for its third penalty of the period with just under two minutes remaining and Liberty took advantage once again when Foltz fed the puck into the slot for Bartel, who drilled a one-timer through the five hole, beating Rebels goalie Vince Benedetto for a 3-1 lead with 1:15 to go.

    Sophomore forward Kam Ottenbreit showcased his playmaking and finishing ability against the Rebels.

    Liberty’s special teams were so effective that they were even a threat on the penalty kill, generating two shorthanded opportunities early in the second period. Ottenbreit started them both with breakaway steals, setting up sophomore forward DJ Schwenke, who was denied by Benedetto on the first, before finishing the second with a beautiful backhand inside the right post after a spectacular move, lifting the Flames to a 4-1 advantage with 17:03 to go.

    “Kam is a solid player for us whose game is excellent for us on the PK and sometimes you don’t see the other side of it,” Handy said. “He scored a really nice shorthanded goal and a really nice 5-on-5 goal as well.”

    UNLV ramped up its attack seven minutes into the second period, getting three shots from close range on a breakaway before cashing in moments later. Ezekiel Estrada started a counterattack on the defensive end and punched in the rebound of David Lenzin’s shot from the point moments later, trimming the deficit to 4-2 at the 12:19 mark.

    The Flames turned back up the offensive heat in the second half of the period, nearly converting on a two-on-one connection from Ottenbreit to Gammer. He was checked from behind on the play, slamming Benedetto’s head into the post, with his point-blank shot glancing off the crossbar.

    Liberty was awarded a 5-on-3 penalty and padded its lead to 5-2 when Fricks sent a pass to Bartel for a one-timer from deep in the right circle that slipped between Benedetto’s pads.

    UNLV capitalized on a power play just 28 seconds into the third period when leading scorer Max Johnson sent a rocket of a shot from the left circle past Virostek off an assist from defenseman Hunter Muzzillo, making it a 5-3 contest.

    The Rebels retaliated again at even strength, cutting Liberty’s lead to 5-4 with 13:42 to play when Estrada threaded a shot past a defenseman and through the five hole on a quick fast break.

    But the Flames withstood another flurry of UNLV shots before Gammer lifted a clearing pass that Ottenbreit chased down behind the net, stealing the puck from a Rebels defenseman and digging it back to Schwenke cutting into the crease for a finish inside the right post and a 6-4 lead at the 10:58 mark.

    Then, Foltz worked his magic again, after taking a short outlet pass from senior defenseman Cam Kuhl. He skated up the left wing and through the circle before maneuvering the puck off his skate and chipping a backhand over the shoulder of Benedetto from a tricky angle, stretching Liberty’s lead to 7-4 with 4:19 to go.

    “It is really neat to see Foltz mature and have his game mature as well,” Handy said. “He’s worked hard and is becoming a guy who’s earned everything he’s getting.”

    UNLV outshot Liberty by a 45-39 count but Virostek made 41 saves to improve to 13-4.

    The Flames and Rebels will meet again in Saturday’s third and final “Midnight Mayhem” matchup of the season, with the puck scheduled to drop at 11:59 p.m. in front of a sure-to-be sold-out crowd at the LIC.

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