Flames travel to Delaware, site of ACHA DI Championships
January 30, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team will have an opportunity to play on a larger, Olympic-sized rink this Friday and Saturday at the University of Delaware's Fred Rust Arena in Newark, Del.
"Playing on an Olympic-sized ice rink is a little bit different," Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. "We have the speed that is needed on the Olympic-sized rink and I feel like our guys will thrive when we play on the bigger ice."
More importantly, their final road trip of the regular season will give the Flames a chance to make themselves at home in the site of this year's ACHA DI national tournament, which will be held there just over a month from now, March 6-11, and to challenge the 2012 ACHA DI national champions.
"It's kind of a good timing for us," Handy said. "Obviously, we're pretty familiar with the facility up there, but it allows the new guys who haven't played up there an opportunity to see what the rink is like."
Even with the back-to-back losses to No. 1 Arizona State University last Friday and Saturday at the LaHaye Ice Center, Liberty remained at the No. 3 spot in this week's ACHA Division I rankings going into the weekend series at Delaware, which dropped from No. 7 to No. 9 after being swept by Stony Brook last weekend at home.
The Flames swept the Blue Hens by 6-1 and 6-5 scores Nov. 8-9 at LaHaye, when Liberty was ranked No. 7 and Delaware No. 4.
"It's a matchup we're really looking forward to," Handy said. "For the last few years, they've been a top contender in the nation. They're a team who plays well most every night and you know what you're going to get out of them."
Liberty is eager to forget about being swept for the first time this season and start another winning streak on the road.
"I was glad we faced the adversity last weekend," Handy said. "From a coaching and player's perspective, it gave us an opportunity to try to re-evaluate where we are on some things and to recalibrate and set the bar for us again for the rest of the season, and that's seven more games plus nationals."
As a mid-week getaway for the Flames on Wednesday, Handy organized a scrimmage on the frozen lake on Liberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr.'s family's farm in Bedford County, which helped the players clear their minds for the home stretch heading into the national tournament.
"We believe in our team and we believe in our abilities," Handy said. "It's always been about our group of guys improving every day, working toward one common goal together. We're looking to have another good practice (Thursday at LaHaye) and to continue to hit our stride heading into Delaware this weekend. We're looking to re-establish our game, to refine our game and be stronger moving forward."
Scouting Preview, Games 30-31: No. 3 Liberty (23-6-1) vs. No. 9 Delaware (20-7-3), Jan. 31 (9:15 p.m.) and Feb. 1 (3:40 p.m.) at Fred Rust Arena in Newark, Del. Both games will be webcast live.
Liberty scouting report: The last time these two teams met, Nov. 8 and 9 at LaHaye, Flames junior forward Lindsay LeBlanc, now the leading scorer on the season with 15 goals and 25 assists, netted the first goal in both wins over the Blue Hens. He had the equalizer in the final minute of the second game, finishing an assist from freshman forward and second-leading scorer Robert Ward (12G, 25A, fourth among ACHA DI rookies) to set up a 6-5 shootout victory clinched by junior forward Ryley Egan (fifth, 13G, 12A).
As a team, the Flames have scored 132 goals in 30 games (nearly 4.5 per contest), using an extremely balanced attack with 14 players in double figures in points. Senior forward and captain Andrew McCombe ranks third in scoring with 15 goals and 19 assists followed by senior defenseman and captain Jackson Kuhn (11G, 20A).
In goal, Liberty features senior Blair Bennett (11-4, 2.58 goals-against average, 0.91 save percentage), who saved Delaware's final four shots in the shootout to secure the victory. Freshman Matt Pinel has been equally effective, going 12-3 with a 3.08 GAA and 0.90 SP.
Delaware scouting report: Offensively, the Blue Hens are led by Mark Zeszut, who ranks fourth in ACHA DI with 51 points (30G, 21A) and fellow senior forward Christopher Volonnino (11G, 21A, 19 points), as well as freshman forward John Redgate (8G, 19A).
Sophomore goalie Patrick Rochefort (8-3, 3.23 GAA, 0.89 SP) has logged the most minutes protecting the Blue Hens' pen, backed up by junior Noble Tucker (6-2, 3.81 GAA, 0.88 SP) and freshman Dylan Troiano (3-3, 2.69 GAA, 0.91 SP), who took the loss to the Flames in the shootout.
All-time Series: The Blue Hens lead the overall series 11-8-1, winning three of four games last year, including both at Liberty, before being swept at LaHaye, 6-1 and 6-5 in a shootout, in November.
Coaches: Kirk Handy, in his 14th season as Liberty's head coach, has an overall record of 302-128-13. M.F. Schurman, who once played in the NHL on the same line as Gordie Howe when he was with the Hartford Whalers, is in his fifth season as Delaware's head coach and boasts an overall record of 111-28-5.