Flames stage another ‘cardiac’ comeback in third period to sweep series at Jamestown
Freshman forward Jackson Vercellono’s putback with 24 seconds remaining in regulation lifted Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team to a 2-1 triumph and dramatic sweep in its first-ever series with Jamestown University, Tuesday night at Wilson Arena.
“The cardiac kids do it again,” Head Coach Kirk Handy said after the third-ranked Flames (8-2) pulled off their second consecutive come-from-behind win over the No. 13 Jimmies (3-4-1) after being held scoreless through the first two periods. “That was an unbelievable goaltender’s dual tonight. Both (Jimmies goalie) Tyson Brouwer and (Liberty junior goalie) Hunter Virostek played well, and it was another battle. Jamestown is a strong opponent and hats off to those guys (but) we were able to find a way.”
Jamestown outshot Liberty 43-39 and Virostek finished with 42 saves compared to 37 for Brouwer.
The Jimmies struck first on the power play midway through the second period when defenseman Andrew Clark converted on his third shot from the high slot in a span of 15 seconds into his third goal of the season. He gathered the rebound of a shot from the top of the left circle and fired a putback through traffic that was deflected past Virostek for a 1-0 lead.
Flames sophomore forward Jason Foltz, who was released from the penalty box 26 seconds into the third period, made the most of his freedom by finishing a three-on-one fast break with a shot from the slot set up by junior forward Matt Bartel, knotting the game at 1-1 with 16:01 to play.
A five-minute major assessed to senior forward Josh Fricks put Liberty’s penalty kill to the test, and it passed with flying colors as the Flames generated nearly as many offensive chances despite being down a man. Sophomore forward DJ Schwenke nearly netted a shorthanded goal on a breakaway, lifting his shot just over the crossbar before firing another shot high on a shorthanded three-on-two break.
Jamestown eventually cycled the puck around the Flames’ cage, forcing Virostek to make a few sprawling saves, including the last two with no stick in hand, before a Jimmies’ penalty ended their power play.
With the teams skating in four-on-four action, junior forward Brett Gammer — who netted the equalizer in Monday’s 3-1 win — had his shot through the slot gloved by Brouwer. Graduate defenseman Chaydan Lauber struck a post with his shot from the right circle at the 5:00 mark before Vercellono had his shot blocked by Brouwer, who smothered Fricks’ sharp-angled shot with 2:01 to go.
The Flames continued to apply pressure on the Jimmies’ cage before cashing in on the game-winner as Vercellono pounced on the putback of a shot by Lauber set up by senior defenseman Alex Norwinski. Lauber’s attempt was blocked by Brouwer and swatted out of the crease by Schwenke to Vercellono, who one-timed the rebound from deep in the right circle into the open right side of the net.
“It was a nice shot by Lauber from the point before Schwenke tipped it out and Jackson buried it,” Handy said. “Our young guys have come in and played big minutes for us and played well for us in these first 10 games.”
Liberty’s penalty kill unit continued to show resilience, which seemed to translate to the rest of the team as it gave the Flames a chance to get back in the game.
“Our PK did a great job again tonight,” Handy said, noting that Liberty was shorthanded even when it didn’t have men in the penalty box. “On this road trip, we’ve had to battle injuries — (freshmen) Luke Heimann, Kam Ottenbreit, and Matt Berezowski are all out. That’s difficult when you’re a young team playing on the road, especially after losing the first two games to Minot (State). Jamestown played us really tough, and we had to stay in it mentally all game, too, to stay focused when the games are as close as they are.”
He credited Norwinski for helping to anchor and stabilize the defense.
“Like a lot of other guys, he was banged up and was able to gut through the game tonight,” Handy said. “I am super proud of our guys, and this (next 10 days off) is going to be a good break to get everyone back healed up and ready to go again.”
The Flames will return home for a Nov. 5-6 series against former ESCHL rival Stony Brook at the LaHaye Ice Center. The Seawolves are coming off a sweep at No. 1 Adrian College, which bumped them up to No. 9 and dropped the Bulldogs to No. 4 in this week’s DI national rankings. The Flames remained at the No. 3 spot despite being swept by then-No. 4 Minot State this past weekend. The Beavers rose two spots to No. 2 with Lindenwood now occupying the No. 1 position.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer