No. 5 Flames outduel No. 3 Bulldogs in Game 1 shootout in Michigan
Freshman defenseman Laz Kaebel netted the equalizer with 7 seconds remaining in regulation and Liberty University’s No. 5-ranked ACHA Division I men’s hockey team ended No. 3 Adrian College’s 16-game winning streak at Arrington Ice Center in Adrian, Mich., with a 3-2 shootout victory on Friday night.
“It was an unbelievable game, from every swing of emotion,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “What it comes down to for us, our PK (penalty kill) was unbelievable tonight. (Assistant Coach) Jonathan Chung has done a fantastic job working with that group. And our power play scored a timely goal. Coach Dan (Berthiaume is) doing a great job with that.”
The Flames were playing without senior forward Brett Gammer, who is in his home province of Alberta, Canada, attending the funeral for his uncle, and will be without junior forward Kam Ottenbreit, who will go to the funeral for his cousin on Saturday.
“We don’t have Brett Gammer in the lineup and we’ve got guys injured and we just gutted it out,” Handy said.
The Flames (5-2) outshot the Bulldogs (6-1) by a 49-44 margin and senior goalie Hunter Virostek made 42 saves, including all three shootout attempts.
“Hunter played a great game,” Handy said. “He was unbelievable and made some huge saves.”
Adrian, the 2021 ACHA DI national champion, got on the scoreboard first when freshman forward Dylan Gajewski received a crossing pass from senior forward Sam Spaedt in the slot and one-timed a shot into the upper netting with 5:19 remaining in the first period.
Midway through the second, Liberty tied it with a power-play goal when junior forward DJ Schwenke tipped in Kaebel’s shot blasted from the high slot with 8:38 left.
The Flames held a slight advantage in shots through the end of the second period and the game remained tied until late in the third, by which time the Bulldogs had overtaken the lead in shots.
Virostek somehow managed to keep the puck out of the net after a steal and shot by Brenden Stanko in the right crease and a rebound by Henrik Overvall on the doorstep at the 5:00 mark. Just over a minute later, however, the Bulldogs seized a 2-1 lead on a steal by Gajewski and fast-break give-and-go from Sebastian Smith to Gajewski back to Smith who uncorked a wrist shot from the inside edge of the right circle.
“They came on strong in the third and really got us on our heels,” Handy said. “We called timeout and we pulled Hunter (Virostek) with 43 seconds left and (Associate Head) Coach Jeff (Boettger) puts the guys he wants out there,” with the Flames on a 6-on-5 advantage.
Left wide open in the left circle with 7 seconds remaining in regulation, Kaebel’s one-timed slapshot off an assist from senior forward Josh Fricks knotted the contest at 2-2, forcing a five-minute, four-on-four, sudden-death overtime period.
“Laz has listened to what we’re saying and continued to improve and he will continue to take his game to the next level,” Handy said. “He’s a great fit for liberty and our culture on and off the ice. We’re glad he’s here.”
In the opening minute of OT, Spaedt hit the post on a backhanded breakaway attempt after skating left to right through the slot and around the pads of Virostek, who made blocker and kick saves of a shot and follow by Matteo DiGiulio moments later. Liberty senior defenseman and head captain Coin Baird blocked a shot with his skate and Virostek withstood a flurry of shots with just under a minute to go and the contest went to a shootout.
Flames senior forward Jason Foltz started the shootout by beating Adrian goalie Noah Decottignies to the low blocker side, inside the lower left post.
Spaedt, who had also been denied by Virostek on a breakaway attempt late in the third period, had his first shootout attempt blocked by Virostek as well, and the Flames and Bulldogs both missed their last two tries.
“It was definitely a good team win, and that’s what it takes, every single guy giving everything that they’ve got,” Handy said. “I was proud of our guys. That’s a big one, something we want to continue to build on. We’ve taken care of tonight, and now want to be ready to go tomorrow and we will be.”
The Flames can’t celebrate the upset triumph for long with a quick turnaround before Game 2 on Saturday, when the puck drops on the rematch at 1 p.m., streamed live on Adrian’s YouTube channel.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer