From Liberty Club Sports
By Ted Allen
No. 4-ranked UNLV turned the tables on Liberty University’s No. 3-ranked ACHA Division I men’s hockey team in Saturday’s “Midnight Mayhem” rematch, overcoming a 1-0 first-period deficit for a 3-1 upset win in front of a capacity “white out” crowd at the LaHaye Ice Center.
“We all love the crowd,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “The environment is unlike any other place (in the ACHA) in my opinion. But we let the crowd be a negative instead of a positive and we got away from who we want to be tonight. We have a young team, but that’s something we’ve got to learn and to figure out”
For the second night in a row, the Rebels (21-4) outshot the Flames (17-6), this time by a 42-25 margin.
“We didn’t have our A game tonight and we’ve got to be better,” Handy said. “I told our guys, it’s a good thing it’s still the end of January. That’s a positive because it gives us an opportunity to kind of work on some things. I love the opportunity we have here to get better, … to push each other, to hold each other more accountable for what we’re doing.”
After finishing three-for-four on the power play in Friday night’s opener, Liberty capitalized on its second chance on Saturday, with freshman forward Jacob Kalandyk making a beautiful forehand tip into the top right corner of the cage for a 1-0 Liberty lead with 8:48 left in the first period. Kalandyk used the blade of his stick to redirect Matt Bartel’s shot from the top of the left circle off a secondary assist from fellow senior forward Josh Fricks.
“It was a nice power play goal,” Handy said. “But when we got a five-minute penalty (in the second period), we took a penalty and that negated part of it and our power play went silent. Our PK was unbelievable, but it can only do so much. It came down to a lack of discipline. We took too many penalties.”
Both Liberty junior goalie Hunter Virostek (40 saves) and UNLV’s Zach Wickson (24 saves) made clutch stops with their opponents on the power play throughout the rest of the first period and early in the second.
The Rebels’ penalty kill shut out the Flames on their second chance before UNLV capitalized in the closing seconds of its second power play of the second period. Alec Johnson received a pass from fellow defenseman Jake Berry and one-timed a slapshot off the back of crouching Liberty defenseman Cam Kuhl into the top-right corner of the net, knotting the score at 1-1 at the 6:14 mark of the second period.
Then, after a five-minute major assessed to Kalandyk, Johnson punched in the rebound of defenseman Hunter Muzzillo’s slapshot from the high slot that broke his stick, cleaning up the loose puck inside the left post after Virostek made the initial save. Johnson’s second goal lifted the Rebels to a 2-1 lead with 1:40 to go in the second period.
Midway through the third, the Rebels had a power-play goal reversed after a video review showed Bradley Golant’s backhand putback in front glanced off the crossbar and the post and did not touch the net.
Virostek then stopped a penalty shot by Paxton Malone after Vercellono was called for hooking on Malone’s shorthanded breakaway opportunity with 6:12 remaining in regulation.
Wickson glove-saved Kuhl’s shot from the high slot with 3:20 to play. Less than a minute later, the Flames pulled Virostek at the 2:30 mark before Kuhl had his shot from the point rejected, and UNLV cashed in with an empty-netter by Brendan Manning from near the red line.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn,” Handy said. “The (‘Midnight Mayhem’) environment was unbelievable, but if we don’t have the discipline — when the crowd is roaring — to not react, we’re going to wind up in that same situation again.”
He said the team has plenty of time and tremendous potential to straighten things out before the end of the regular season and start of the March 10-15 ACHA DI National Championships in St. Louis.
“I have a lot of confidence in this team, I believe in this team,” Handy said. “It is an opportunity for us to learn from this and to realize that we can’t put ourselves in that situation.”
The road to the national championships doesn’t get any easier next weekend with Liberty hosting No. 2 Minot State, the team that eliminated the Flames in the semifinals last spring in St. Louis — also by a 3-1 count after surrendering an early 1-0 lead.
“We like that,” Handy said of hosting the Beavers, who were also ranked fourth when they swept No. 3 Liberty on Oct. 16-17 in Minot, N.D. “We embrace the opportunity. We aren’t going to shy away from it at all. We as a program want to play the best teams in the league every year. Our guys know they’re going to have a tough schedule. We want to improve and the only way we’re going to do that is to play better competition and keep refining our game.”
(Originally published at https://www.liberty.edu/club-sports/news/midnight-rebels-salvage-split-with-flames-on-power-play-goals-by-johnson/)