No. 1 Lady Flames overcome slow start to pull away from No. 9 Saints, 5-1
Fresh off two dominant wins at No. 2 Adrian University, Liberty University’s No. 1-ranked ACHA Division I women’s hockey team rallied after a slow start to defeat No. 9 Maryville University, 5-1, Friday afternoon in the series opener at the LaHaye Ice Center, its league record 52nd win in a row.
The Lady Flames (12-0) trounced the Saints (6-6-2) twice in St. Louis last season, 6-1 on Maryville’s home ice en route to a third straight WMCH Tournament title and 7-0 in the first round of their fourth consecutive ACHA Division I National Championship crown.
Liberty opened the game with a quick goal off the stick of sophomore forward Haley Battles 90 seconds into the contest. However, Maryville responded in the 12th minute with a goal by Olivia O’Brien to level the score before allowing the Lady Flames to net four unanswered scores in the final two periods.
“I think it was a big wakeup call for a lot of us,” sophomore defensemen Peyton Carle said of O’Brien’s goal. “Some of us didn’t come into the game mentally prepared for how hard this team is going to battle with us. But, after that goal, we really just realized this team is here to play, and we do need to actually work hard and fight for this win.”
Liberty finally found its groove and offensive flow in the second period, scoring four goals to pull away from the Saints. Graduate defensemen Aislyn Stretch smacked a shot past goaltender Sawyer Duncan off an assist from Battles to regain the lead for the Lady Flames 2:51 after the faceoff. Less than 30 seconds later, Liberty scored again, this time from junior right wing Carley Glover off an assist from junior forward Brityn Fussy.
A penalty from the Saints gave the Lady Flames an advantage and the team took full advantage of the power play. Glover sent the puck to senior center Yannick Truter, who lifted Liberty to a 4-1 lead before Battles’ second goal of the night concluded the scoring for both squads.
Head Coach Chris Lowes stated after the game that he hopes to see more energy from his team after the Lady Flames sluggish first period.
“I think in the first period (Maryville) capitalized,” he said. “But as the game went on, (we) got more comfortable. If it wasn’t for that little period in the second, we might have been in trouble. Everyone’s searching to play 60 minutes and that’s going to continue to be our pursuit.”
Carle also critiqued Liberty’s performance and said it must improve if it wants to keep its hopes of remaining undefeated alive.
“I don’t think this was our best game,” she said. “I think we had a good second period but the first period and the third period we weren’t really executing the way that our coaches expect us to and I feel maybe against a harder team it could have been a different score and a different outcome. We pushed through; we still got the win. We just have to move on to tomorrow.”
Senior forward Linzy Jedrzejek emphasized that the Lady Flames enter each game with the same approach and level of effort, whether they’re facing the No. 2 or No. 20 team in the nation.
“We always come into games with the highest expectation possible, so we come in with the highest drive and push that we can,” she said. “We don’t really compare teams. We just come in with discipline and intensity that we know to play and just perform at the top-level no matter how good or bad the team is.”
Perhaps the brightest spot for the team came from the play of freshman goalie Alex Keith. With the exception of the one goal in the first period, Keith was perfect on the night with 20 saves.
“I think (Keith) played amazing,” Carle said. “Coming in as a freshman, she had a huge game last weekend against Adrian and just coming back and having another big game today against Maryville. That’s jut really good for her, a good confidence boost. We’re super happy with how she’s playing. As a freshman, it’s hard to come in, especially as a goalie, and she’s proven herself.”
Liberty will face off against Maryville again Saturday at 7 p.m. in the team’s last game before Thanksgiving Break, streamed live from the LIC.
By Christian Shields/Staff Writer