Flames Men's Division I Hockey preview
September 7, 2012 | Lynchburg, Va.
If you talk to anyone on the Liberty University Division I Men's Hockey team, one common thread is found in all of the comments about the end goal for the season.
It's about winning a national championship.
The Flames open their season with back-to-back home exhibition games against the Hampton Jr. A Whalers Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m.
Liberty finished No. 10 in the final American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) rankings in 2012 after being upset 6-3 by Adrian University. After the disappointing finish, the Flames are hungry for a championship.
"Our goal is to win nationals, but right now we'll start by being a top five team, and just get better as the year goes on until March and then peak at nationals," senior forward Brent Boschman said.
Boschman led the team in scoring last season with 65 points on 25 goals and a team-high 40 assists. Fellow senior Rick Turner led the team in goals with 34.
The vast majority of the experience on the team this season comes from the attacking lines.
Liberty brings back both Boschman and Turner, as well as Andrew McCombe, one of three captains on the team this season.
"They were really strong for us last year on the penalty kill," Handy said.
Another player to keep an eye on is Luke Baumgarten. The 5-foot 9-inch sophomore from Elmhurst, Ill., spent much of last season dealing with a myriad of injuries, but still finished with 19 points (10 goals, 9 assists), which was good for tenth on the team last year.
Five freshmen join the Flames this year on the front line: Bram Erickson, Kyle Garcia, Paul Ingles, Danny Logan, and Tyson "Ty" Street. Handy is looking for them, as well as the rest of the 15 forwards on this year's squad to assume their role, but be flexible enough to move elsewhere if the need arises.
Six players comprise the defending lines for the Flames, including two of the three captains.
Juniors Jackson Kuhn and Matt Sherry lead the way. Both will be called upon both on and off the ice to carry the load. The two finished 1-2 in penalty minutes last season, but Handy will look to them to keep up the physical play while still doing their best to stay out of the "sin bin".
Dave Semenyna, Liberty's all-time leading scorer, returns as an assistant and will be looking to groom the defensemen throughout the year.
Sophomore Cam Bakker will also be looked to for leadership in the back line because, according to Handy, "they have all been there before.".
Last season Kuhn finished tied for fifth on the squad in assists while Bakker finished eighth.
The Bellew name returns to the ice for Liberty this season as Steven Bellew becomes the third member of his family to play for the Flames, joining his brothers Jimmy and Joe (2001-2005), who played for Liberty during the latter part of their time as a Division II program.
B.J. Pirus, whose dad played in the NHL, and Kyle Miller round out the freshman additions to the defense.
The middle is very experienced for the Flames with Boschman, sophomore Lindsey Leblanc, and Garland will be looked upon to anchor the front.
"Garland was one of our most consistent players last year," Handy said.
Though he only finished with five points (two goals and three assists) on the season, Garland was a facilitator and steadied the front allowing for guys like Boschman and Turner to operate.
Ty Street will also likely see time in the middle and be someone to take a lot of draws for Liberty, especially in the offensive end.
Both Clayton Brown and Blair Bennett return as goalies for Liberty. Bennett finished the year as the number one goalie, but Handy expects both players to see a lot of time in the pipes as the season goes forward.
This is probably one of the toughest schedules Liberty has faced in Handy's 12 seasons as head coach. Over the 38-game season, Liberty will match up with eight teams that qualified for the 2012 national tournament, including the defending national champion (Delaware) and runner-up (Oakland), who they will face within a month of each other the first half of the season, and over the course of eight days in the second half. Liberty faces three of the top five from the final ACHA rankings as the Flames also face No. 5 Ohio at the Ice Center October 26 and 27.
"We've got strength throughout the schedule, which is good," Handy said. "We don't hit pockets where we go long without playing strong teams, and when I say strong teams, we're talking top five teams."
After four exhibition games, the Flames drop the puck at the LaHaye Ice Center with a doubleheader against Mercyhurst College Sept. 21 and 22, during the university's College For A Weekend (CFAW) festivities, the first of six-straight weekends at their friendly confines.
In addition to the games against Delaware and Oakland, Liberty will welcome former Division II rival Davenport to Lynchburg, as well as a first time ever visit from the Arizona Wildcats. Arizona finished 13-18-1 last season.
Liberty will also participate in the ACHA Showcase in Springfield, Ill., October 5-7. This will be the third-consecutive season that the Flames will participate in this round-robin weekend tournament.
By BJ Williams/ Staff Writer