DI Flames eager to bounce back at home against Oakland
February 7, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Last weekend's two-game split at defending ACHA Division I national champion Delaware reminded Liberty University's DI men's hockey head coach Kirk Handy of the Flames' series at Oakland University (Mich.), last year's national runner-up, earlier this season.
In both series, Liberty dominated the first game, winning 5-1 over the Grizzlies on Nov. 30 and 5-2 over the Blue Hens last Friday, before being blown out in the second — by a 7-3 score against Oakland on Dec. 1 and an 8-1 count at Delaware on Saturday.
This time, the lopsided loss came just 20 hours after one of the Flames' best 60-minute performances of the season, when they ended a six-game losing streak against the Blue Hens.
Handy is looking for a rebound effect this weekend when Liberty hosts Oakland in a rematch of the 2005-2006 DII national championship game, won by the Grizzlies, 7-6. Both teams moved up to the Division I level the very next year and Oakland beat Penn State for the DI crown.
"We're going to have to move forward," Handy said. "As a coaching staff, we know we can bounce back. We'll be ready to go again on Friday."
Liberty held its position at No. 10 in this past Friday's 15th ACHA DI poll, one spot ahead of the Grizzlies.
"That's a great program," Handy said. "We always have a good rivalry back and forth and we're excited about it."
Friday's first game against Oakland will be free for all Liberty students who bring a stuffed animal for the Teddy Bear Toss before the opening faceoff. Participants can also register their animal for a chance to win a brand new PlayStation 3. All stuffed animals collected will be distributed by The Teddy Bear Brigade to children in need around the world.
The Flames conclude their regular season next weekend at home against West Virginia, a team it swept decisively Jan. 18 and 19, before gearing up for the ACHA DI National Championships in Chicago, where the top 20 teams receive bids and Liberty will be seeking its first national title.
Scouting Preview, Games 35-36: No. 11 Oakland (Mich.) University (17-15-2) vs. No. 10 Liberty (21-11-2), Feb. 8 and 9 (7 p.m.) at the LaHaye Ice Center.
Liberty Scouting Report: Leading scorer Rick Turner recorded the go-ahead goal in the Flames' 5-2 victory at Delaware on Friday and also distributed a critical assist in the final 14 seconds of the second period, raising his points total to 67, third highest among ACHA DI players.
Bram Erickson, who prevented a shutout for the Flames in Saturday's 8-1 setback, netted the fourth goal of Liberty's 5-1 triumph against Oakland in Michigan.
Flames goalies Blair Bennett and Clayton Brown have posted near-identical stats this season. Bennett is 10-6 with a 3.10 goals-against average in 1,026 minutes, saving 90 percent of opponents' shots; Brown's record is 11-6-1 and he sports a 3.50 GAA in 1,012 minutes, blocking 89 percent of shots on goal.
Oakland Scouting Report: The Grizzlies compete in the Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League along with Adrian College (24-3), the top-ranked team in the ACHA DI poll for a second week in a row, which beat Oakland in all three of the teams' meetings this year. The Grizzlies won three straight games over the weekend — two against Kent State and one over Michigan-Dearborn — after being swept at Ohio on Jan. 25 and 26.
Like Liberty, Oakland suffered a shootout loss to then-No. 1 Arizona State earlier this season. Unlike the Flames, who won back-to-back games at Arizona the same weekend in mid-January and two more against the Wildcats later in the month at home, the Grizzlies were then swept by AU in two games on their home ice.
Billy Balent is the Grizzlies' leading scorer with 46 points, including 33 assists, which is tied for eighth most in ACHA DI. Anthony Colizza ranks second on the team with 43 points, including three game-winners, while Frank Matyok has netted seven power-play goals, tying him with the Flames' Turner for 12th in ACHA DI.
Both of the Grizzlies' top two goalies have allowed fewer than three goals per game and stopped more than 90 percent of opposing shots. Sophomore Corey Hrischuk is slightly better in all categories with a record of 11-8, 2.90 GAA, and 91 save percentage; senior Matt Toter, a transfer from Liberty, is 6-7-1 with a 2.92 GAA and 90 save percentage.
All-time Series: The Flames' all-time record against Oakland is 11-8-2. Liberty took three of four from the Grizzlies last season, splitting two games at Oakland, including a 3-2 shootout setback, before sweeping two games at the LaHaye Ice Center last Jan. 27-28 by 3-2 and 6-3 scores.
Coaches: Kirk Handy, in his 13th season as Flames head coach, has an overall record of 276-119-14. Oakland head coach Jeremy Bachusz, in his fourth season at the Grizzlies' helm after taking over for Seth Hogan, now at Arizona, has an overall record of 93-52-12.