Lady Flames’ 57-game winning streak halted in overtime by WMCH rival Bearcats
Nearly two years after suffering its last loss, Liberty University’s No. 1-ranked, four-time-defending ACHA Division I women’s hockey team had its league record 57-game winning streak snapped on Friday afternoon at Women’s Midwest College Hockey (WMCH) rival McKendree (Ill.) University, falling 4-3 in overtime at the McKendree Metro Rec Plex in O’Fallon, Ill.
“It is what it is,” Lady Flames Head Coach Chris Lowes said. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done over this stretch, but streaks were meant to be broken and this one has now been broken. The last five years, our (WMCH) league’s gotten a lot better with programs like Maryville and McKendree, Minot State and Midland, all teams that have taken big steps. We’re going to be in for some really competitive games the rest of the season and hopefully, this puts some more urgency within our team. I hope to look back at this as a catalyst for us to find new ways to do great things.”
The Lady Flames (17-0-1) outshot the Bearcats by more than a 2-1 margin, 47-23, but came up short on the scoreboard for the first time since a Jan. 23, 2021 loss at the LaHaye Ice Center against Lindenwood (Mo.) University, the WMCH team they face next on Saturday at 8:50 p.m. EST. (Liberty accounted for that 2-0 setback, its first ACHA shutout loss in seven seasons, by defeating the Lions in the ACHA DI National Championship game that year, matching Lindenwood’s record with its third straight national title.)
“You learn a lot more from a loss than a win, and you appreciate (winning) more after a loss,” Lowes said. “They scored four goals today, every one of those goals had mistakes. Lessons you learn from losses are more impactful because of what they mean. We’ve been on this long winning streak and it’s been incredible. We will take a pulse on our locker room and as a staff find the best way to lead our girls to a quick turnaround, and tomorrow, we’ll have an urgency to win again.”
McKendree (9-4-1), ranked No. 9 in ACHA DI, extended its winning streak to six games by overcoming a 2-0 deficit after the first period to upset Liberty (17-1) for the first time in 10 tries.
“It was a tight game with lots of momentum shifts,” Lowes said, noting that the Lady Flames seized the early lead on sophomore forward Brielle Fussy’s fast-break finish and junior forward Brityn Fussy’s backhand putaway after a Bearcats turnover. “We were up 2-0 after 1 and feeling pretty good. They scored a minute and a half into the period and again midway through the second before they were able to take the lead 3 minutes into the third and we spent the rest of the period battling it.”
Liberty finally tied the game at 3-3 with 1:41 remaining in regulation on junior forward Brityn Fussy’s second goal of the game, rifling a pin-point wrist shot from inside the left circle as the Lady Flames cycled the puck around the perimeter on a 6-on-4 power play after pulling freshman goalie Alex Keith (19 saves) for the extra man advantage.
“We had great pressure for the last 10 minutes, when we looked really dangerous, (but) were fortunate to get that power play late,” Lowes said.
After holding the Lady Flames scoreless for the remainder of regulation, the Bearcats netted the game-winner with 2:32 to go in the 5-minute, 3-on-3, sudden-death overtime period on second-leading scorer Camryn Scully’s second goal of the afternoon, which trickled off the glove of Keith and rolled behind her across the goal line.
“We were buzzing and creating a lot of offense, but they got one shot in overtime and It was a big one,” Lowes said. “It’s 3-on-3, so it’s run-and-gun and they got a loose puck and that’s all they needed. Alex (Keith), who has had a great year, was caught awkwardly on the shot. I know she is a competitor and would like a couple of those back, but we will take this as a team, and we are not going to dwell on it. There were lots of positives and some things we need to learn from this. Kudos to McKendree. They’re a dangerous team and they did some very good things. They played a really tough game and made the most of their chances and limited our offensive firepower.”
The Lady Flames won’t face the Bearcats again until possibly meeting them in the Feb. 24-26 WMCH Tournament in St. Louis or the March 16-21 ACHA DI National Championships near Boston.
In the meantime, they are fully focused on bouncing back in Saturday’s showdown with the Lady Lions.
“We are excited to get a win tomorrow against a team that’s been one of toughest opponents over the last several years,” Lowes said.
The Lady Flames defeated Midland (Neb.) University last March in St. Louis to surpass the Lady Lions’ ACHA DI National Championship record with their fourth consecutive crown.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer