Club Sports News

Flames set for ACHA national tournament rematch at Ohio

October 3, 2013  |  Lynchburg, Va. 

Defenseman Steven Bellew (96) skates the puck out of Liberty's zone as Lindsay LeBlanc (left) and Cam Bakker (44) provide support in front of goalie Blair Bennett last October in the LaHaye Ice Center, where the Flames split two games with Ohio.

Four-time American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I national champion Ohio showed Liberty University how explosive its offense can be by scoring three power play goals early the third period of the second round of last season's ACHA DI national tournament in Chicago to eliminate the Flames, 7-4.

This Friday and Saturday night, Liberty plays its first-ever games in Ohio's Bird Ice Arena after splitting their first-ever meetings with the Bobcats last October in the LaHaye Ice Center.

"We're looking forward to the opportunity to play Ohio at Ohio," Flames head coach Kirk Handy said. "What we're worried about is not last year, but this year, where our team is at and where we're going.

"There's a lot of mutual respect for both programs," he added. "Both, year-in and year-out, work hard in trying to prepare their team to be the best in the country. The biggest thing is we know is both teams will be ready to go Friday night. We have to be able to work harder and smarter and be more effective in implementing our systems than they are. We have to have that much more attention to detail."

Ohio dropped from No. 5 in the ACHA Division I preseason poll to No. 10 in this week's second regular-season rankings despite posting a 7-1 victory last Friday over West Virginia, a team the Flames swept by 7-2 and 6-3 scores the weekend before.

Handy said Liberty, which dropped from No. 13 to No. 14 even with its 5-0 start this season, is not dwelling on last year's national tournament setback, or its Oct. 27 upset of the then-No. 1-ranked Bobcats.

"Our focus as always is on our team, how hard we work and how we execute," he said. "Our goal is quite simply to make sure that our effort and energy level is where it needs to be. We can control only what we can control. We're focused on making our team better each time they're out on the ice together. We feel like a strength of ours is our work ethic and our ability to battle through adversity."

Playing without senior defenseman Matt Sherry, who sustained a lower-leg injury in last Friday's 10-0 win over Towson, Liberty may have to rely on its own prolific scoring lines to stage upsets of the Bobcats.

"All four of our lines have played well up front and want to continue to see the progression of those lines this weekend," said Handy, who promoted defenseman Brandon Cox from Liberty's DII team to fill in for Sherry. "Sherry's a big part of our team (but) we feel confident in Brandon. We have a great deal of trust in all of the guys back there. For the most part, we're continuing to develop as a team, with leadership from (Andrew) McCombe, Sherry, and (Jackson) Kuhn, our captains."

Scouting Preview, Games 6-7: No. 13 Liberty University (5-0-0) at No. 9 Ohio (2-0-1), Oct. 4 (7:30 p.m.) and Oct. 5 (7:30 p.m.) at the Bird Ice Arena in Athens, Ohio. Live webcasts will be available for both games.

Liberty Scouting Report: Ranked No. 13 since last year's final ACHA DI poll, the Flames currently boast the nation's most productive and balanced attack, with five players ranked in the top 10 in the league in scoring. Senior forward McCombe (five goals, seven assists, 12 points) is the nation's scoring leader, followed by freshman forward Robert Ward (4G, 6A), who ranks sixth with 10 points, junior forwards Ryley Egan (4G, 5A) and Lindsay LeBlanc (4G, 5A) and senior defenseman Kuhn (5G, 4A) who are each tied for 10th with nine points.

In goal, Liberty got a shutout from senior Blair Bennett against Towson in his first action since tearing the ACL in his right knee late last season. But the Flames are likely to start freshman Matt Pinel (4-0, 2.50 goals-against average, 0.91 save percentage) back between the pipes for this weekend's games.

Ohio Scouting Report: Besides having a first-year head coach on the bench, the Bobcats feature plenty of new faces on the ice after graduating several starters from last year's national semifinalists. Freshman Ryan Heltion ranks fifth in ACHA DI in save percentage (0.95) among goalies who have at least two starts this season and 10th overall with a 0.96 goals-against average. Offensively, the Bobcats are also anchored by underclassmen, paced by freshman forward Joe Breslin's four goals and three assists and sophomore forward Michael Harris' two goals and three assists. Senior forward Brett Agnew ranks third with two goals and two assists.

All-time series: Liberty split two regular-season home games against Ohio, losing the first 3-2 on Oct. 26 before winning the second 4-3 on Oct. 27 to snap a six-game losing streak and bump the Bobcats from the No. 1 spot in the ACHA Division I poll. Ohio knocked Liberty out in the second round of the ACHA DI tournament in Chicago to take a 2-1 lead in the all-time series.

Coaches: Handy is in his 14th season as the Flames' head coach, with an overall record of 284-122-13. Jonathon Sheridan is in his first season as head coach of the Bobcats, replacing Dan Morris, who won 344 games in his 12-year tenure at the helm. Ohio is 2-0-1 under Sheridan after last Friday's win over West Virginia and its season-opening series with John Carroll, the team Liberty beat in last year's ACHA DI first round to set up the rematch with the Bobcats.


By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

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