From Liberty Club Sports
By Ted Allen
Competing in a Chicago Classic chock full of nationally ranked teams, Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team skated evenly with UNLV for the majority of Sunday afternoon’s championship game before falling by a 2-1 final score at Fifth Third Arena, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks’ practice facility.
The Runnin’ Rebels (12-3), which came in as the No. 5 team in last week’s ACHA DI national rankings, knocked off No. 6 Adrian College (14-2) in Friday’s first round before sending No. 2 Minot State (10-1) to its first defeat in Saturday’s semifinals. In Sunday’s final, they netted goals early in the second period and midway through the third before fending off a comeback bid by No. 4 Liberty (13-4).
“It was a back-and-forth the whole time,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “That was how we expected the game to be and it played out the way.”
The Flames had a number of quality scoring chances, one early in the second period when sophomore forward Kris Bladen started a fast break and drew the UNLV defenseman to him before dishing the puck to freshman forward Jacob Kalandyk, who’s shot very nearly put the Flames on the scoreboard first.
“He just missed, off the crossbar,” Handy said. “It was that close (to a 1-0 Liberty lead).
Just over two minutes later, Runnin’ Rebels forward Jayson Dimizio capitalized on the game’s first goal unassisted, skating around a Flames defenseman near the top of the right circle before firing a shot past junior goalie Hunter Virostek just inside the left post for a 1-0 UNLV edge with 15:36 left in the second.
The Runnin’ Rebels struck again midway through the third period, doubling their advantage to 2-0 when Cole Wyatt fired a shot through the slot into the back of the net at the 9:43 mark.
With 3:25 remaining in regulation, Kalandyk received assists from Bladen and freshman forward Jackson Vercellono and fired a turnaround wrist shot through the slot just over the glove of UNLV goalie and tournament MVP Zach Wickson and under the crossbar, trimming the deficit to 2-1.
Liberty took Virostek out of the cage after a timeout with 1:30 to go, giving it a six-on-five advantage. After a UNLV timeout at the 1:00 mark, the Flames generated a few chances, including perimeter shots by senior forward Josh Fricks and graduate defenseman Chaydan Lauber, but couldn’t get them through Wickson and the Runnin’ Rebels’ defense.
“We pulled our goalie and went for it,” Handy said. “We threw some more pucks on goal and definitely had some chances.”
For the contest, UNLV outshot Liberty, 36-28, and Virostek made 34 saves in the setback.
The Flames, who dominated Davenport, 11-2, in the opener and doubled up No. 15 host Illinois, 6-3, in the semifinals to set up their first-ever meeting with UNLV in the final, will get another shot at the Runnin’ Rebels when they visits the LaHaye Ice Center on Jan. 29-30, with Game 2 the third and final “Midnight Mayhem” matchup on the Flames’ schedule.
“It’ll be a great series and we’re looking forward to it,” Handy said.
First, the weekend after Thanksgiving Break on Dec. 3-4, the Flames will return to the LIC to conclude their fall semester with a series against West Virginia with Friday’s opener the second “Midnight Mayhem” game of the year.
(Originally published at https://www.liberty.edu/club-sports/news/di-flames-keep-unlv-on-the-ropes-before-falling-in-final-of-chicago-classic-2-1/)