Newark, Del. — After the fourth line made their presence felt early and often in Friday’s 6-0 win over Stevenson, a pair of those same checking line forwards — Charlie Wilkie and Darren Carter — combined for four goals in Liberty’s 7-4 win over the University of Delaware Division 2 men’s hockey team in Saturday evening’s (Feb. 16) Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Conference South Division final.
After a back-and-forth first seven minutes of action yielded no goals, Wilkie fielded a crisp breakout pass from Carter before beating Delaware defenceman Eddie Martorella on a one-on-one attack and firing a hard wrist shot from the left dot over the glove of Delaware goalie Stephen Odgers at 7:54. A Tyler Swift cross-checking minor at 11:16 opened the door for the Flames to extend their lead, and just 16 seconds in, two-way defenceman Drew Crilly directed a long-range Aaron Partridge shot past Odgers. A top-shelf wrist shot from Blake Flanders at the high slot not only lifted Liberty to a 3-0 lead 14:22 in, but also prompted Delaware coach Vince Falkowski to make early use of his timeout.
Just 43 seconds later, the Blue Hens got on the board, with Ryan Morse going bar-down from the left dot off a Steve Bryson rebound. Shane Moran brought the Hens within a single goal with 15.7 seconds left in the first period when he tipped a Devin LeBlanc shot from the right dot past Liberty goalie Dakota Cyhaniuk.
Delaware failed to maintain their momentum as the second period began, losing battles for position in front of the cage and giving up net-front goals to Carter and Devin Melice in the first 2-1/2 minutes to fall behind 5-2. After closing a three-goal lead to one earlier, the Hens struggled to repeat that rally, overpowered by a sharp Liberty breakout and fast end-to-end movement by the Flames to control the Delaware zone and command the slot area.
Alec Rankin directed a Nick Petrus shot from the right point into the Liberty goal with 4:33 remaining in the second, dropping the margin to two. A high-sticking minor assessed to Liberty’s Kyle Martin with 50 seconds left in the frame gave the Blue Hens an opportunity to re-rally, however they failed to connect on either that power play or any number of chances in the first half of the third period.
With 7:42 to go, Liberty extended their lead to 5-3 when Wilkie finished a net-front feed from Carter. Morse responded for Delaware with a power-play goal two minutes later when LeBlanc — who led the Blue Hens with three assists — set him up for a one-timer at the top of the left circle by way of a cross-ice pass. Through the final 5:47, Delaware was rendered a non-threat, being shut down by a solid Liberty defence, including a spell in the final 1:20 when Odgers vacated the net in favour of an extra attacker.
In the final 38 seconds, Carter earned his second goal of the game and seventh point of the MACH tournament when he tapped the puck into an open Delaware goal after Odgers lunged to make a save on Wilkie from close range.
Cyhaniuk stopped 39 of Delaware’s 42 shots in victory, while Odgers saved 36 of 43 total shots faced.
Liberty will face Penn State in the MACH championship game for the third consecutive year. Game time Sunday (Feb. 17) is 3:30 p.m., with Delaware Hockey Night Radio offering full coverage from Fred Rust Arena. Delaware returns to action on March 2, taking on Miami (Ohio) in the second round of the ACHA Southeast Regional Tournament in Lynchburg, Va.
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