DII men seeking long-awaited ACHA national tournament bid
September 11, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
After winning eight of their final nine regular season games, including an emotional 5-3 victory over conference rival Virginia Tech on Super Bowl Sunday, the Flames proceeded to lose to the Hokies in the first round of the MAC tournament, 5-4.
Then, after edging Rowan 5-4 in overtime in the first round of the American Collegiate Hockey Association DII Southeast Regionals, Liberty was upset by 10th-seeded Maryland, 6-2, dashing hopes of an ACHA DII national tournament bid.
|Flames' ACHA DII men's head coach Chris Lowes returns for his seventh season at the helm after playing for Liberty from 1998-2002.|
"We had a strong run, but it was disappointing," sixth-year head coach Chris Lowes said. "The last two years, we had to win that second game of regionals and couldn't get it done and you can't afford to have an off night when it's lose or go home."
He believes the Flames return with better depth at all positions, a stronger determination to go farther in February, and all the tools needed to still be playing in March.
"The talent's there, it's a matter of us finding chemistry and putting together a game plan and a strategy and ultimately, just building that cohesiveness and desire to take that next step," Lowes said. "We've had talent before, but having that group from top to bottom with the talent, desire, intensity, and focus to be successful, that common goal of guys willing to sacrifice" is what he's looking for from this year's squad.
The top two teams in the Southeast Region qualify automatically for the ACHA DII national tournament, with the regional tournament determining the last two berths.
"I'm hoping we take the next step, win that second game at regionals, make nationals and hopefully make some noise there," Lowes said. "We need to have consistency and just the ability to play in those high-pressure situations and execute."
Liberty last made it to the DII national tournament in 2006, when it advanced to the finals before falling to Oakland. That was the season before adding a DI team.
The Flames open their 2013-14 season this Friday against the Hampton Roads Whalers' Junior "B" team, at 9:30 p.m., after the DI men's game against the "A" squad at 7. The schedule doesn't slow down until a month-long midseason break around Christmas.
"That's a good thing," Lowes said. "On Sept. 28, we host Bowling Green, a top-five team in the Southeast, and then from there, we're right into the heart of our league schedule. We won't have many off weekends after that."
Mid-Atlantic Conference South Division competition includes Delaware, Maryland, UMBC, and Virginia Tech, who the Flames open MAC play with Oct. 19 at home.
"It'll be great competition from top to bottom," Lowes said. "Delaware's probably the underdog coming in, but the next four have all had success at the highest levels. So really, any team could come out on top."
A highlight of the Flames' home schedule is the Jan. 17-18 series against 2012 national champion Florida Gulf Coast.
Liberty will start the season without two forwards from last year's team — sophomores Kyle Davis and DJ Dinnison.
Davis broke his arm and dislocated his wrist on the first day of tryouts.
"We have high hopes for him," Lowes said. "Hopefully, he'll get healthy and maybe get back for the second semester, if not sooner."
Dinnison was promoted to the DI squad after his successful tryout.
"Any time some of our guys get called up, whether it's during the season or at the start of a new year, it's a great thing, a great opportunity for them to get experience at that next level," said Lowes, who called up two members of last year's DIII team — defenseman Parker McIntyre and goaltender Cary Byron.
Liberty still returns five of its top six scorers from last season.
"We retained a lot of our production and we brought in some really skilled pieces so I anticipate that we'll be deeper at every position this season," Lowes said. "Teams that try to focus defensively on specific players or lines, I think we'll be able to expose them in those second-, third-, or fourth-line battles.
"Our forwards are a little more skilled, top to bottom," he added. "Our ability to be a puck-possession, playmaking team will be evident."
One player teams will have a difficult time defending is fifth-year forward Brad Docksteader, who paced Liberty and ranked sixth in the nation with 74 points (41 goals, 33 assists) last year and returns to work on his master's degree. He will be complemented on attack by Peter Kazmierczak, John Cotton, Jeff Boschman, and Bobby Cervone.
Defensively, the Flames feature four returning players and four newcomers. Lowes expects Clinton Nigh and Brandon Cox to anchor the line, supported by Lucas Ebel and Nat Arbour.
"Our defense corps is going to be a little bigger, stronger, as well as being skilled and with some speed," Lowes said. "We've added a bit of size in Bannon Lynott and Parker McIntyre, they're both big bodies. Then we've added Ryan Sidun and Daniel Huntington who both have junior experience and are good solid all-around defensemen."
In goal, he will have three options to choose from, returning starter Nick Devine, Justin Gortman, and DIII call-up Byron.
"Nick's coming off a real strong season," Lowes said. "He played a lot of big games for us and played well, so I expect him to return to his form and the other two to push him to become better."