Flames seeking to three-peat as ESCHL Tournament champs
March 14, 2019 | Lynchburg, Va.
As the top seed and two-time defending champion in this weekend's Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League (ESCHL) Tournament at the Ice Line Quad Rinks in West Chester, Pa., Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team is prepared for a possible third straight meeting with Stony Brook. The second-seeded Seawolves (20-9, 13-5 ESCHL) are the only other conference team to make the cut for the March 21-16 ACHA DI National Championships. For that reason, however, the other four teams in the ESCHL tournament could be especially dangerous, with no other trophy to play for.
"We are excited about the opportunity in front of us and I don't think it matters who we play," Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. "We're going to stay focused on ourselves, making sure we're the best we can be. We are trying to improve as a team and have to make sure that we are executing on all cylinders."
Liberty (24-6-3, 16-1-3) received a first-round ESCHL Tournament bye and will find out who it faces in Saturday's 5 p.m. semifinal matchup, webcast live, after Friday's quarterfinals between No. 3 Syracuse (15-10, 10-5) and No. 6 New York (9-17, 5-15) at 1 p.m. and No. 4 Rhode Island (20-13, 8-10) and No. 5 Delaware (15-15, 5-12) at 3:30 p.m. The Flames will face the lower remaining seed of the two winners before Stony Brook takes on the higher in Saturday's second semifinal at 8 p.m. Sunday's championship game is set for 1:30 p.m.
"You never know who you're going to get," Flames sophomore forward Devin Pierce said. "They're going to come out flying and you can't sleep on any of them. They're going all out and we've got to be ready for that."
The Flames returned junior forward and leading scorer Quinn Ryan from his trip to Russia to represent Team USA in the Winter World University Games on Thursday and will have their full roster available for Saturday's tournament opener for the first time since early last fall.
"We're right where we want to be going into the postseason," Pierce said. "We've got everyone back healthy and we're ready to go."
Ryan (24 goals, 33 assists) and fellow junior forward Brock Thompson (24G, 24A) will be complemented by freshman Josh Fricks on the Flames' top line with Pierce (10G, 21A) joining fellow sophomores Cole Gammer (17G, 31A) and Jordan Bochinski (17G, 12A) on the second line.
"We can definitely do some damage in the offensive zone," Pierce said. "We're focusing on playing our game, using our speed, and getting in on the forecheck to create a lot of opportunities."
"That fourth line can really wear the other team out in the zone, so those guys are crucial in playoffs and nationals," Pierce said.
Liberty's defense will be at full strength, anchored by senior goalies Cole Burack (16-4, 2.75 goals-against average, 89.7 save percentage, 3 shutouts) and Josh Halpenny (8-2, 1.76 GAA, 92.7 SP, 2 SO) and shielded by seniors Matt Cruickshank (15A), Kyle Crane, and Basil Reynolds and juniors Garrett Nelson (25A), Jacob Fricks (11G, 20A), Josh Bergen, and Chaydan Lauber (8G, 9A).
The Flames, ranked eighth in ACHA DI, will use the ESCHL tournament as a final dress rehearsal for the ACHA DI National Championships in Frisco, Texas, where Liberty will face ninth-ranked Arizona (29-7) in next Saturday's opening round.
"It will be a real quick turnaround," Handy said. "But our focus is going to be on the (ESCHL) tournament, not on nationals. We are looking forward to the opportunity that's in front of us and excited to get going here."