Shorthanded Flames swept by Skatin’ Rebels after ‘Midnight’ for fourth straight setback
Receiving an encouraging video update from senior forward Josh Fricks and a prayer led by his father were two of the brightest highlights of Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team’s third and final “Midnight Mayhem” matchup of the season, a 6-2 loss to UNLV early Sunday morning at the LaHaye Ice Center.
Fricks regained movement in the left side of his body after fracturing vertebrae in his neck on a collision with a UNLV player in Friday night’s series-opening shootout setback. But the good news and pregame prayers didn’t prevent the No. 4 Rebels (14-5-1, 14-2-1 ACHA) from turning the tables on the No. 5 Flames (13-9-1) after having been swept on their home ice when the two teams met in Las Vegas before Thanksgiving.
“We’re very thankful,” Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said of Fricks, who underwent a four-hour surgery on Saturday morning after being airlifted to Roanoke. “God’s done a miracle so far and we pray that things are going to continue trending in the right direction. I believe the guys will continue to rally around Josh. He’s part of our team whether he’s on the ice or not.”
The Flames definitely missed his leadership and vision on the ice in executing their high-precision offense.
“Josh is a huge loss (so) other guys are going to have to step up — every single guy in the locker room that’s healthy,” Handy said. “We believe in them all. With some injuries, it creates some different lineup combinations. We’re going to have to do a better job of adjusting.”
Besides Fricks, the Flames were playing without three other injured players, and spent much of the night with a man in the penalty box, leaving them shorthanded on the ice.
“We’ve got a short bench with guys being banged up and we were killing penalties,” Handy said. “When we play good teams, we’ve got to keep them off the power play and limit their chances. We started on the wrong path. It’s something we’re going to work through.”
With 15:16 to go in the first period, seconds after the Flames killed a penalty, the Rebels capitalized on Max Johnson’s wide-open follow in the left crease after a shot by defenseman Jaxsen Wyatt that rebounded off the pads of freshman goalie Jackson Glassford (33 saves).
Liberty senior defenseman and head captain Colin Baird evened the score at 1-1 by launching a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that whizzed through traffic in front provided by junior forwards Jacob Kalandyk and Kris Bladen and past UNLV goalie Landon Pavlisin at eye level into the upper netting at the 7:59 mark.
However, the Rebels stormed out of the gates with three unanswered goals in the second period to open a 4-1 advantage. The first came with 13:52 remaining on an unassisted power play shot from the high slot by defenseman Jake Berry after Glassford was penalized for coming out of the cage to confront a UNLV player. The Rebels added an insurance goal when Azzaro Tinling skated the puck around the left corner and fired a shot through traffic in the left circle that beat Glassford inside the left post with 9:17 left in the period. Less than two and a half minutes later, UNLV defenseman Mattias Dal Monte took the puck from behind his net and sent a long stretch pass down the center of the ice to Riley Jensen, who finished a quick fast break with a backhander into the upper netting, extending the edge to 4-1.
In the third period, the Rebels’ leading scorer Cole Wyatt made it 5-1 by skating the puck from end to end, cutting through the slot and around Glassford before banking it off freshman defenseman Laz Kaebel unassisted with 14:07 remaining in regulation.
The Flames got one goal back when Kaebel sneaked a shot from the top of the left circle past Pavlisin with 12:29 remaining in regulation. But UNLV enjoyed the last laugh after Tinling recovered a loose puck in the slot and threaded it through the five-hole as Glassford retracted from the butterfly position with 3:14 to play.
Liberty won the shot battle, 51-39, but Pavlisin made 49 saves to deny its comeback bid. This was the second year in a row that UNLV has spoiled Liberty’s Midnight Mayhem festivities, and the Rebels seized a 5-3 lead in the series that started last season.
“It wasn’t a good showing of what we are capable of,” Liberty junior forward Jason Foltz said. “We played a little scared tonight. When we went there (to UNLV), they were scared of us, and tonight it looked like we were in our shells.”
The sellout crowd did its best to fire up and fan the Flames, but the Rebels neutralized the home ice advantage by staying on the offensive.
“We knew they were going to come here ready to go,” Foltz said. “There are not many atmospheres like this anywhere in the ACHA so I’m sure coming here and getting booed is a lot of motivation for them … to come out here and shut out the crowd. They came out hard, they played consistent, played hard, did all the little things right, and just outworked us. Too many odd-man rushes were given up to them and we’ve got to bury the chances that we had.”
Playing their toughest stretch of the season over the next four weeks leading up to the March 16-21 ACHA DI National Championships near Boston will be a challenge, and a test of the Flames’ resolve.
“We’ve got to come to work every night,” Handy said. “We’re playing top teams in the league and we can’t have half of the guys show up and half of the guys not show up. You can’t play half the game and not the other half of the game. I don’t make any apologies for having a tough schedule. We have to be a lot better. We’ve got to get back to work Monday. That’s the key, putting our work boots on and getting going next week.”
The Flames will travel to Stony Brook (N.Y.) for games against the Seawolves on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
“Going to Stony Brook, there’s going to have to be a really hard week of practice full of holding guys accountable and being physical and doing all of the little things right and guys playing their role and coming together as a team like we did at UNLV,” Foltz said. “Everyone’s got to take a look in the mirror and ask themselves … what are you fighting for? Ultimately the goal is we’re fighting for the Lord and we’re fighting for our faith. It just comes down to that work ethic. They’ve got to realize that they’re here to play hockey and glorify God while they’re doing it. Me included, we’ve got to show up to the rink every day prepared and do whatever it takes.”
He believes the Flames can put up enough goals to win games if they can share the distribution load that Fricks carried on his top line.
“Our offense, you’ve got at least five or six guys who can consistently put that puck in the net,” Foltz said. “Losing Josh, who I consider more of a passer creating that space for us, it’s going to be tough. We just got two guys suspended (for fighting, junior forward Nate) Albers and (sophomore defenseman Aleksandr) Charin, and I don’t know if (injured forwards Kam) Ottenbreit or Truett (Olson) will be back, but hopefully they will be because we’re going to need some bodies this weekend.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media