Lady Flames withstand physical battle against Bulldogs in series-opening victory
Sporting sky blue camo-styled jerseys that are being auctioned off from now through next weekend, Liberty University’s three-time defending ACHA Division I National Championship women’s hockey team left quite an impression on Adrian College with an 8-3 triumph, Friday afternoon at the LaHaye Ice Center.
The Lady Flames (19-0), who stretched their program-record winning streak to 34 games, beat the Bulldogs for the 14th time in a row since Adrian dealt Liberty two of its only blemishes in a 35-1-3 season in 2018-19 (a 3-1 loss on Oct. 26 and 4-4 tie on Oct. 27 at Arrington Ice Arena). The previous season, the Lady Flames had fended off the Bulldogs, 2-1, in winning their second of four ACHA DI National Championships.
“Adrian’s always a good competitor,” said Liberty graduate forward Shelby Bradford, who was a freshman when she was named MVP of that 2018 championship final. “They always give us a good game. It was definitely one of our most physical games we’ve had. They’re a good, physical team, but we handled them well and we got the production that we needed.”
Liberty got on the scoreboard with 10:16 left in the first period when freshman forward Brielle Fussy slammed home the rebound of graduate defenseman Dana McLeod’s shot from the top of the right circle from deep in the right crease.
The Lady Flames doubled their advantage to 2-0 with 2:05 to go in the first when Bradford ricocheted a backhanded putback from the left endline off Adrian defenseman Katie McNair’s skate into the back of the net.
With the Lady Flames on the penalty kill to start the second period, they extended their lead to 3-0 at the 18:37 mark when graduate forward Vanessa DeMerchant intercepted the puck at the red line and went in for a breakaway score, lifting a backhanded wrist shot into the top left corner of the cage.
Then, just over two minutes later, sophomore forward Carly Glover dug the puck out of the defensive end and Fussy skated onto it along the left boards before cutting toward the cage and threading her point-blank shot through the five-hole of Adrian goalie Jordan Hunt, padding the advantage to 4-0 with 16:14 left in the second.
At the 12:00 mark, the Lady Flames capitalized on a power play when graduate defenseman Sally Hoerr finished a putback from the left endline off freshman forward Haley Battles’ shot from the right crease, extending the lead to 5-0.
Less than two and a half minutes later, freshman defenseman Sammy Peebles chipped the puck up to Fussy on the left wing, where she skated in and rifled a wrist shot into the top right corner, capping her hat trick and stretching the Lady Flames’ edge to 6-0 with 9:32 to play in the period.
Adrian defenseman Allison Shaw ended the shutout with a shot from the high slot at the 8:15 mark before McLeod put the Lady Flames up 7-1 with a shot from the right point five seconds into another power play.
With the teams battling in 4-on-4, the Bulldogs got a shorthanded goal back when Kat Robinson stole the puck at center ice and capitalized on a 1-on-1 break by beating Liberty sophomore goalie Kylie Mebs to the top right-corner of the net, trimming the deficit to 7-2. Then, at the 11:01 mark of the third, after hitting the right post with a shot seconds earlier, Adrian cut it to 7-3 on Keira Eagleson’s high shot from the high slot that deflected off Rhea Peterson, crouching in the left crease, past Mebs.
But senior forward Yannick Truter pushed the final margin of victory to five goals, receiving a feed from Battles up the left wing and skating into the circle before sniping a shot past Hunt into the top-right corner with 7:43 remaining.
“If they score, it’s just a matter of how we respond to it, and hopefully we can do that (again on Saturday),” Bradford said. “We can’t break down after that. We have to come back and capitalize because there are games that we could be down, so we have to be ready for that, especially going into nationals.”
The Lady Flames will honor their seniors before Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. rematch at the LIC, which could be the last for a handful of graduate students honored at previous Senior Day contests as well.
“Just knowing this could be my last home series here definitely makes the games more important and it’s a big weekend for the seniors as well,” Bradford said. “Me and Shannon (Fehr), Vanessa (DeMerchant), and Dana (McLeod), it’s definitely crazy to think that five years ago we came in and that after all these years here this is our last game. So we’re leaving it all out on the ice and making sure that we’re moving forward moving into nationals.”
The Lady Flames will travel to St. Louis to try to three-peat as Women’s Midwest College Hockey (WMCH) Tournament champions from Feb. 25-27 before returning there to compete for a fourth consecutive ACHA DI National Championship from March 16-20.
“We’re pretty focused and after this weekend, no matter the outcome, we have to keep going and keep striving toward our end goal,” Bradford said.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media