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    September 16, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Sporting striking new home jerseys that shone brightly in contrast to a colorful, sellout crowd, Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team erased an early deficit and broke open a tie game with four unanswered goals in the second period of a 9-3 season-opening rout of North Carolina State on Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center.

    “It was cool to have a packed barn for the first game,” Flames junior forward Jacob Kalandyk said. “It’s nice to always have the fans here supporting you. It makes the atmosphere a lot of fun to play in. It was good for a lot of us in the first game to get our nerves settled, get used to the crowd, and get used to playing again. It was a good night just to get the season going.”

    The sellout crowd helped to keep the Flames fired up on the ice throughout the contest.

    “The crowd was fantastic tonight and there was lots of energy in the building,” Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy added. “As a team, and as a program, we don’t take that for granted. We want to work hard every day in practice and put the best product out on the ice here to represent our school and obviously the Lord and all of the students here, who are a big part of our team.”

    Despite playing without last season’s leading scorer Jason Foltz and fellow junior forward Kris Bladen, the Flames, ranked No. 5 in the ACHA DI preseason poll, demonstrated explosiveness on attack, netting back-to-back goals within less than a minute’s span in the first and second periods. Junior forwards Kam Ottenbreit (2 goals, 2 assists) and Kalandyk (1G, 2A) helped pick up the scoring slack, combining for seven points on the night.

    “We had a big night offensively,” Kalandyk said. “We put a lot of pressure on them throughout the whole game. Their goalie made some good saves there, but overall, our offense was buzzing tonight. We were going.”

    “The positives were we made some nice plays offensively,” Handy added. “We did a better job of moving the puck. Our wingers were flying the zone a bit and we want to make sure that we’re coming up the ice together.”

    As in last season’s clash, when the Flames had to erase an early 3-1 deficit in a 7-3 win, Liberty had to overcome a bit of a slow start. With the Icepack’s first power play winding down and 14:26 remaining in the first period, NC State’s Zack Robinson skated in from the blue line and lifted a wrist shot over the shoulder of senior goalie Cédric Le Sieur, clanging off the top-right corner of the cage and rebounding off the upper netting.

    Junior forward Kam Ottenbreit netted two goals and two assists to help spark the attack.

    Just over a minute later, Liberty sophomore forward Jackson Vercellono received an assist from Kalandyk in the left circle and skated past an NC State defenseman before threading the puck through the five hole, beating goalie Isaac Tawyer and leveling the score at 1-1 with 13:25 to play in the period.

    “That’s something that we’ve always been good at is responding to adversity,” Kalandyk said. “When they score, we come right back and we always respond well with that.”

    Moments later, the Flames added two goals in less than a minute with junior forward Kam Ottenbreit slamming home the putback of Vercellono’s shot from the high slot that glanced off the crossbar, followed by senior forward Brett Gammer taking a pass from Ottenbreit, skating into the left crease, and chipping the puck near the left post where Tawyer accidentally tucked it in for a 3-1 Liberty lead at the 8:43 mark.

    However, with 52.7 seconds to go in the first stanza, NC State got right back in the game when Emery Oliver punched in a loose puck near the left endline.

    The Icepack then knotted the contest at 3-3 with 15:22 left in the second period when Alex Robinson skated down the slot under close defensive coverage and unleashed a deceptive shot past senior goalie Hunter Virostek.

    But Liberty responded less than a minute later when senior forward Josh Fricks put away the rebound of a shot by Ottenbreit from deep in the left crease with 14:25 to go. Then, at the 13:02 mark, freshman defenseman Laz Kaebel received an assist from senior defenseman Colin Baird and fired a rocket of a shot from the high slot through traffic and into the upper netting for his first goal for the Flames.

    Kalandyk extended the Flames’ advantage to 6-3 with 11:55 to play in the period with a top-shelf wrist shot from the left circle.  Then, with 7:24 left in the stanza, Kaebel skated the puck from his own blue line and fed Ottenbreit a pass in the neutral zone where he shook off an Icepack defenseman’s jersey-grab and lifted a wrist shot from the left circle past Tawyer, stretching the edge to 7-3.

    Associate Head Coach Jeff Boettger stokes the Flames on the bench.

    Sophomore forward Joe Clark sent a beautiful pass from along the left boards across to sophomore defenseman Nate Cox before he skated through the right circle and unloaded a sharp-angled wrist shot just inside the top right corner, padding Liberty’s lead to 8-3 with 14:07 to play.

    Finally, with 7:53 remaining in regulation, sophomore forward Truett Olson worked a give-and-go pass sequence in front of the cage to Kalandyk, who set him up for a point-blank finish in the right crease — despite being upended by an Icepack defenseman — for a commanding 9-3 final score.

    “The line of Kalandyk, Olson, and Vercellono played well tonight,” Handy said. “They all chipped in on the scoreboard. Kam Ottenbreit had two goals tonight and was really solid on the penalty kill.”

    Spending too much time on the PK was an area Handy would like to see improvement in, though the Flames were able to generate their fair share of scoring opportunities shorthanded.

    “We’ve got to tighten up on the discipline,” he said. “We took too many penalties tonight and that’s something that we’ll watch in video. It was good to get a game in, and it gives us something now to work on this week in practice. We’ve just got to grow as a team. It’s a great start and we’ll keep building and get better.”

    Next Friday night, the Flames will return to the LIC for a single-game showdown with West Virginia at 7 p.m., when Handy will look to eclipse the 500-win milestone over his 23-year coaching career at Liberty.

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

    Freshman defenseman Laz Kaebel scored his first goal in a Flames uniform on a shot from the high slot.