Lady Flames going up against odds at ACHA DI nationals
March 11, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
If it can embrace the role of underdog, Liberty University's ACHA Division I women's hockey team has as good a shot as any of the eight teams in this week's ACHA DI National Championships to return to Sunday's final at the Fred Rust Arena in Newark, Del.
As the seventh seed, the Lady Flames (15-9-4) will have to upset at least a couple teams they lost to during the regular season just to get out of their four-team pool that includes the University of Massachusetts (No. 2, 20-6-1), Robert Morris Illinois (No. 4, 23-5-5), and Adrian College (No. 5, 16-6-5).
"We ended up in the heaviest pool," Liberty Head Coach Paul Bloomfield said, noting the Lady Flames went 1-4 against those three teams this year, managing only a 3-2 overtime win over Robert Morris on Oct. 19 at the LaHaye Ice Center. "That's why you've got to play more consistently through the regular season, so you can get a better seeding and into an easier pool."
As it stands, Liberty must open the tournament by challenging UMass at 8:30 a.m. and RM at 6:15 p.m. Thursday.
"We'll have our hands full," Bloomfield said. "They're both good teams and I know the rankings didn't show it this way, but UMass is the strongest team in the league. They have eight seniors."
The Minutewomen swept the Lady Flames by 4-1 and 3-1 scores Nov. 25-26 in Amherst, Mass.
After an up-and-down fall semester, when it stayed at No. 10 in the nation for the first two polls, Liberty started the second semester on a tear, winning six in a row to move into the top eight. That streak started with a 4-3 upset of Miami (Ohio) University, the No. 1-ranked team for the entire season and now the No. 1 seed for the national tournament.
The Lady Flames, who swept their pool and edged Robert Morris Illinois in overtime in the semifinals to reach last year's championship game, hope to continue that successful trend and avoid taking a roller-coaster ride through the postseason.
"You can't be up and down," Bloomfield said. "If we're down, we're going to be out. We've got to come and give everything we've got, one game at a time. We have to play together and it's going to take the whole team."
Realistically, Liberty will need to win two out of three games in its pool to be one of the two teams to advance to Saturday's Final Four. Friday's 1:15 p.m. matchup with Adrian, a former NCAA Division III team that blanked the Lady Flames 1-0, Oct. 3 in Michigan, could prove pivotal.
"There's a different mentality you have to take to national tournaments," Bloomfield said. "It's a different animal. If you don't (rise up), then you fall short."
The Lady Flames are as healthy as they have been at any stage of the season, with junior defenseman Autumn Kucharczyk the only player sidelined by injury.
"The team is as ready to play as it's ever going to be," Bloomfield said, noting sophomore goalie Kristina Toppazzini was on the ice for Monday morning's practice after straining her knee in a game last month against the Tri-City (N.C.) Selects. "It's unfortunate we still have one girl out and when you have a thin bench, you need everybody you can. If everybody shows up to play the way they can play, we have the energy and strength to play two tough games on Thursday."
The Lady Flames will practice Tuesday at 4:45 p.m. at LaHaye before having a light skate Wednesday morning and boarding a bus for Newark, Del.