Lady Flames survive power outage, complete sweep with first-period power play goal
An on-campus power outage delayed the start of Saturday afternoon’s game between Liberty University’s ACHA Division I women’s hockey team and Miami (Ohio) University for more than an hour, and may have taken some of the energy out of the Lady Flames, who followed Friday’s 12-1 rout of the RedHawks in the series opener with a 1-0 win in the rematch.
With one air compressor out of three functioning in the LaHaye Ice Center, after eight hours with no electricity in the building, conditions were not ideal for the two teams on the ice, as the final score reflected.
“The ice did feel a little off, but we battled through the adversity and pulled it off,” said Lady Flames freshman goalie Alex Keith, who made 20 saves to record her third shutout in four starts. “I’m glad we got to play today (after) we were told it was going to be a cancelled game today.”
Liberty (10-0) outshot the RedHawks (7-4-1) by a 60-20 count and only netted one goal, on a power play late in the first period, but the four-time defending national champions still managed to extend their ACHA DI-record winning streak to 50 games spanning three seasons.
“First period was good, second and third was a little sloppy, a little slushy out there,” Liberty Assistant Coach Justin Forth added. “It plays on the mental side of things. Instead of stickhandling, though you want to carry it, you should probably chip it, so it kind of makes you second-guess what you’re doing out there.”
He said the RedHawks resembled much more the team that won three out of four national championships from 2014-17 on Saturday than they had on Friday.
“Miami played a way better game,” Forth said. “They took away time and space. They made everything hard on us. They forced us to chip pucks that we don’t want to chip, and we didn’t chip them, so we had a lot more turnovers today than we did yesterday. All credit to Miami. They did a better job of stopping pucks and winning those board battles and they did a better job of getting pucks deep on us today.”
The Lady Flames ended the scoreless tie with 2:18 to play in the first period when senior defenseman Aislyn Stretch started a well-executed passing sequence to graduate forward Danica Polson. She sent the puck across to sophomore defenseman Peyton Carle who found sophomore forward Haley Battles open deep in the right circle, where she beat Miami goalie Maya Gonzalez (59 saves) with a low shot that bounced in blocker side for the game’s golden goal.
“Obviously, our execution wasn’t as good as it was yesterday, and their goalie played a lot better,” Forth said. “Yesterday, we got a lot of bounces. It wasn’t necessarily a 12-1 game, but (Gonzalez) played really well today and made the stops that she was supposed to stop.”
Miami ended the first period and started the second on a 5-on-3 power play, but Keith repelled every scoring threat by the RedHawks, who missed a couple golden opportunities at netting the equalizer, including a back-door putback that missed wide off a shot from deep in the slot.
“That was probably the scariest for me,” Keith said.
Liberty killed off the penalties to start the second period and Keith saved a breakaway chance by Miami moments later to preserve the 1-0 lead.
“Those games are a lot more fun to play in because it keeps me in the game,” Keith said. “I had a lot of fun today. There was definitely a lot of pressure, but I think I perform well under pressure, so I wasn’t too worried. I knew that my team was going to be there to back me up if I needed them. My team is always there for me, so it’s nice to get an opportunity to show that I’m there for them, too.”
Forth said he and Head Coach Chris Lowes had to make the right adjustments to put the Lady Flames in the best position to complete the series sweep.
“It’s good to play in a game where you’re only up 1-0 the whole time,” he said. “You’ve got to do a little bit more coaching and the girls have got to grab the sticks a little tighter. The girls like these games better, too. 12-1 wins, it’s hard to stay engaged and take every play seriously, but when you’re up 1-0 and the other team pulls the goalie, everybody’s on the ice and they’ve got to be ready to go.”
He gave Keith and her defensive corps around her props for posting the sixth shutout in Liberty’s last seven games.
“We made a handful of mistakes (but) the D played well enough to win,” Forth said. “Thankfully, Keith was there and didn’t let them make us pay. She’s a really good goalie. She can beat anyone in this league and she made the saves she needed to make.”
After accumulating 357 consecutive minutes of shutout hockey over a five-game stretch, the Lady Flames have started a new streak with 66 minutes and counting.
“With two more wins this weekend, we’re looking forward to seeing where we’re at in the rankings this week,” Forth said, noting the season’s first poll will be released this week.
The Lady Flames will travel to Adrian (Mich.) College next weekend to play a rematch of their 2018 national championship triumph, the first of their four in a row.
“I know Adrian’s going to be good competition, so it’s good to kind of get that close game under our belt so we can go in there prepared next weekend,” Keith said. “I definitely expect them to be at least in the top three. There’s going to be a lot of good competition this year. They’ll be closer games for sure, but we’re just going to to grind it out over the week in practice and prepare for them on the weekend.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer