No. 4 Flames bring out six-shooters for showdown with No. 2 Rebels in wild West, winning 6-2
Now fully acclimated to the West Coast time zone and the Mojave Desert temperatures in southern Nevada, Liberty University’s No. 4-ranked ACHA Division I men’s hockey team turned up the heat inside City National Arena in Las Vegas with a 6-2 triumph over No. 2 UNLV on Friday night. The Skatin’ Rebels won three of four meetings with the Flames last season, including knocking them out in the quarterfinals at nationals.
“Our guys played a great game tonight and I was super proud of them,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “They played 60 minutes of hockey that we’ve been looking for and haven’t been able to find until now. I really liked the way they were dialed in for 60 minutes and came to play. Last night (a 9-1 loss to NCAA DI Alaska Anchorage) was a tough night where we lost handily, so this is a character win with the situation we were in. We wanted to make sure that it was used as a learning opportunity and to use it to make our team better and tonight, we got stronger as the game went on.”
Liberty (11-5) opened an early 1-0 lead at the 15:44 mark when Josh Fricks sent a crossing pass from the right circle into fellow senior forward Matt Bartel in the left crease where he finished his point-blank shot past UNLV goalie Landon Pavlisin, who was taken out of the play a split second later after Bartel crashed into him and the left post.
Then, with 11:04 left in the first period, sophomore forward Joe Clark gloved a steal off a Rebels clearing attempt out of the right corner and placed it down in the right circle before uncorking a shot that beat Pavlisin to the left post for a 2-0 lead.
But UNLV (7-5) struck back twice on the power play, by defenseman Alec Johnson off an assist from Cole Wyatt on a 5-on-3 and Riley Jenson set up by Azzaro Tinling on a 5-on-4 to tie the contest at 2-2 going into the first intermission. But Liberty added two more goals in the second and third periods and Flames senior goalie Hunter Virostek made 25 saves and shut the Rebels out the rest of the way.
The Flames came out aggressively on attack to start the second period with junior forward Jason Foltz forcing a turnover in the Rebels’ defensive end before finishing moments later after receiving a return feed from Fricks and skating through the right circle at the 18:46 mark. They maintained possession and pressure for much of the rest of the period and capitalized on another turnover deep in the UNLV zone when junior forward Jacob Kalandyk skated onto the puck in the high slot and ripped a wrist shot past Pavlisin into the top left corner of the cage.
Fricks finished off a fast break with 9:27 remaining in regulation when he took the puck from Foltz and skated down the slot before firing a shot from the left circle. Finally, with 5:13 to play and the Flames on a penalty kill, sophomore defenseman Nate Cox intercepted a pass in Liberty’s zone and skated it out of the high slot and up to sophomore forward Truett Olson, who finished a one-on-one breakaway through the five hole for a commanding 6-2 advantage.
“We had all four lines going tonight and all of our defensive pairings on our end and we did exactly what we needed to do, execution-wise, with all of our lines chipping in,” Handy said after the Flames outshot the Rebels, 55-27. “Overall, I thought our guys played well 5-on-5. We took a couple more penalties than I would have preferred with five for the game, and had a couple big PKs as well, but we have to cut that down tomorrow. That will be a big key.”
The Flames will wrap up their trip to Vegas with Saturday night’s 10:30 p.m. EST rematch at City National Arena, streamed live on UNLV’s YouTube channel.
“That is a big game tomorrow night and we have to get ready to bring it again tomorrow, and try to put that team away again,” Handy said. “We have to stay focused on what’s ahead and we have to rest up and be ready to go and be at our best again, emotionally and physically. UNVL is a good team and we realize at (the ACHA DI) Nationals Championships, you’ve got to play four games like this” back-to-back, to win the tournament.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer