Flames’ three-goal flurry at start of second period hounds Wolverines
Three goals in the first three minutes of the second period erased a 2-0 deficit and lifted Liberty University’s No. 3-ranked ACHA Division I men’s hockey team to a 3-2 victory in the first-ever meeting with No. 8 Michigan-Dearborn, Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center (LIC).
“It was incredible and I give our guys a lot of credit for kind of battling back,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “The second period, that was our best period we’ve played this year so far. I liked our forecheck and the way we were hounding pucks in their zone.”
Forward Billy Brock put Michigan-Dearborn on top less than a minute after the opening faceoff, receiving a pass from Brendan West as they skated through the neutral zone before controlling the puck in the air with his glove and punching it past Flames senior goalie Hunter Virostek from deep in the left crease at the 19:24 mark.
With the teams skating four-on-four after trading penalties, the Wolverines doubled their lead to 2-0 with 12:36 to go in the period when senior defenseman Adam Groat slipped beyond the defense and put away a pass through the slot from Brock off a secondary assist from West.
Sophomore forward Jason Foltz generated a couple scoring chances in the closing minute of the first period, catching a clearing attempt near the top of the right circle and ripping a shot blocked by freshman goalie Tanner Beals on the first before nearly finishing a shot in the left circle moments later.
“Our coaches and players all did a good job of coming together that first intermission,” Flames junior forward Brett Gammer said. “We recognized some things that we were lacking on, winning puck battles, keeping our feet moving, and kind of simplifying our game.”
“Jeff (Boettger) in the locker room challenged them that we weren’t playing the way that we needed to play and we needed to get back to reestablishing the game that we know works,” Handy added.
Just 35 seconds into the second, senior forward Josh Fricks sent a pass out of the left corner back to junior defenseman and head captain Colin Baird, who trapped the puck on the blue line along the Flames’ bench and launched a shot through traffic in front that sneaked past Beals.
“It was fun to find the back of the net and get the period rolling,” Baird said. “Josh put it at the wall and I pulled it off the wall and it just had seeing eyes to the net. It went straight in. I was proud of the boys going to the net. The boys jumped and we responded right away and we dominated that whole period. We capitalized on our chances and we went to work and played smart the rest of the way.”
A minute and 13 seconds later, Gammer battled an M-D defenseman for possession of the puck along the right boards before dishing it to junior linemate Matt Bartel, who skated around another Wolverine through the circle to the end line before assisting sophomore linemate D.J. Schwenke with a crossing pass for an easy finish in front.
“That’s something that our line has a lot to offer,” Gammer said of the fast break finishes. “Me, Bartel, and Schwenke can all get our feet moving and we’re quicker guys and can win those puck races and provide some offense for the team and bring that physicality, too. Speed and physicality, hitting, kind of go hand-in-hand because you can afford to throw hits if you have the speed to get back into play.”
Finally, less than two minutes later, sophomore forward Kam Ottenbreit won a faceoff in the Wolverines’ left circle and followed the puck through the crease before putting it in off the back of Beals to give the Flames their first lead on the game’s final score — with 17:21 still to play in the second period.
Liberty outshot Michigan-Dearborn, 37-27, and senior goalie Hunter Virostek made 25 saves, holding the Wolverines scoreless over the final 52:36. The Flames were perfect on the penalty kill as all five goals in the game occurred at even strength.
“Schwenke and Bartel and those guys were big-time on the penalty kill, which was excellent again tonight,” Handy said. “(Assistant) Coach (Jonathan) Chung did a great job with that (PK) and Bartel and Schwenke and Gammer are playing some good hockey for us.”
The two teams will battle again in the first of three “Midnight Mayhem” matchups this season, Saturday at 11:59 p.m. back at the LIC.
“It’ll be electric, for sure,” Handy said. “This is going to be the type of game you’re going to have at the national tournament, two great teams going at it, two teams battling hard for 60 minutes, great goaltending at both ends.”
“I’m super pumped, and excited for the atmosphere,” Gammer added. “Liberty’s got the best fans in the whole league. They’re awesome and we’re just blessed to have them and I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully, those students are out having coffee or something and keeping the energy going the whole time, even when it’s 2 a.m.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media