DII Flames host Southeast Regionals, eye national berth
February 19, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
As the No. 4 seed in this weekend's ACHA Division II Southeast Region Tournament at the LaHaye Ice Center, Liberty University's DII men's hockey team carries high expectations into the postseason.
Needing two victories to advance to the ACHA DII National Championships for the first time in eight seasons, March 21-25 in Marlborough, Mass., the Flames will have a home-ice advantage and be seeded higher than its opponents.
"We've got a young team, with only two seniors (forwards Bobby Cervone and Brad Docksteader) but their energy and expectation has spread throughout the team," Liberty Head Coach Chris Lowes said. "It's hard to beat two top-10 teams consecutively. We've been close these past few years, but the guys won't be happy unless we reach this goal, earn a trip to nationals, and that's what we're hoping to do."
Liberty (26-7-1) is seeking to make the national tournament field for the first time since 2006, when it reached the championship game before moving up to the DI level the next season.
The Flames open tournament play Saturday at 6 p.m. with a fourth meeting against No. 9 Delaware (19-11-1), a team it swept during the regular season. On Jan. 24 at LaHaye, the Flames trailed 3-1 after the second period before rallying for a 4-3 victory on a shot by freshman defenseman Daniel Huntington that barely beat the third-period buzzer.
The Flames dominated the Blue Hens, 7-1, in the first round of last weekend's Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association tournament in Abingdon, Md., before losing to the University of Maryland Baltimore County in Saturday's semifinals.
"I think we're coming into our own in the second semester," Lowes said. "Guys have had to fill in bigger roles and we've had a strong finish to the season and hopefully we can carry that on."
No. 3 Penn State will play No. 10 Bowling Green, No. 5 Miami will face No. 8 Rowan and No. 6 Virginia Tech will take on No. 7 Toledo in other first-round games.
"Regionals are wide open," Lowes said, noting Delaware upset Penn State and shut out Rowan 5-0 this season. "The No. 8, 9, and 10 teams have shown ability to win big games. I don't think anyone's a heavy favorite. Miami has the strongest history in the tournament and Virginia Tech's going to be a really tough out."
The tournament will be reseeded after Saturday's first round with games set for 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Sunday at LaHaye. The two winners will join Florida Gulf Coast, which won three of four contests against Liberty this season, and UMBC — the region's two autobids — at nationals.
"We're comfortable playing here," Lowes said of LaHaye. "Hopefully, that's a positive for us. We have home ice as far as the higher seed in both games so we do get the matchups we want. We should be able to implement our game plan since we get the last line change."
Lowes plans to start junior goalie Cary Byron in Saturday's opener and will look to get contributions from all four of his offensive lines.
"We've gotten offensive production from our defense as of late and we have a couple lines we really expect scoring from and a couple lines we really expect energy and a defensive presence from," Lowes said. "We need all 21 guys to contribute."