Flames traverse mountains on season's first road trip to WVU
September 19, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
When Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team traveled to West Virginia last season, it left Lynchburg a day early to get over the mountains ahead of an incoming snowstorm. Flames head coach Kirk Handy opted to stay behind to tend to his wife Jannie, who gave birth to their fourth son the night before the series opener at a neutral site in Charleston.
Coming off a season-opening 9-2, 7-3 sweep of the Hampton Roads Whalers' Junior "A" team last weekend at the LaHaye Ice Center, Liberty could be heading into a storm of a different kind this Friday night, playing the Mountaineers in their season opener before their hostile fans in Morgantown.
"We're excited," Handy said. "It's been many years since we've visited Morgantown and we're really looking forward to it. It's their home opener, so they're going to have raucous crowd and we've got to make sure that we come ready to play. We have to bring a physical brand of hockey to start the game."
The Flames (2-0), who will find out Friday where they are ranked in this year's first ACHA DI national poll, open conference play with the first of several challenging tests on their independent schedule.
"They're a formidable opponent," Handy said of the Mountaineers. "They've been a top-25 team and they've got a couple returning (forwards) who are solid, a couple goalies and defensemen. They played us to a shootout here last year so we're going to have to play well."
Last year in West Virginia, the Mountaineers put up a physical fight and the Flames weathered the storm with patience and persistence.
"They were hooking and slashing to try to keep up with us and slow the game down," Liberty assistant coach Jeff Boettger said. "They played us tough. They did a very good job of playing to their strengths and they made us work for the game. I challenged the guys to be really disciplined and to fight the uphill battle."
Handy likes the mentality and physicality of this year's team, which features better balance on attack and more depth overall.
"It's a group of guys who aren't going to give up, nor give up on each other," he said. "No one thinks they're a superstar, everyone's willing to work hard and to do what it takes and is necessary to win games."
Scouting Preview, Games 3-4: Liberty University (2-0-0) at West Virginia (0-0), Sept. 20 (9:30 p.m.) and Sept. 21 (4 p.m.) at the Morgantown Municipal Ice Arena. Live webcasts will be available for both games.
Liberty Scouting Report: Liberty flaunted its depth and exemplified "scoring by committee" in last weekend's season openers against Hampton Roads, when the Flames racked up 16 goals and 18 players registered points. Ironically, senior defenseman and assistant captain Jackson Kuhn, who recorded 18 assists without scoring a goal last season, is tied for Liberty's scoring lead with four goals through two games.
Robert Ward, playing in his first action for the Flames, notched a team-high four assists while senior captain Andrew McCombe netted three goals and Ryley Egan and Cam Bakker had two each. Forwards Danny Logan, Lindsay LeBlanc, and Charles Williams each distributed two assists.
Newcomer Matt Pinel started both games in goal against Hampton Roads ahead of veteran Blair Bennett who allowed 3.10 goals per game last year and had a save percentage of 90.4 before injuring his ACL.
"He's got the hot hand right now so we're going to be continuing to use him," Handy said of Pinel (2.50 GAA, 89.0 SP).
West Virginia Scouting Report: West Virginia put together a seven game winning streak between the two series in which it was swept by Liberty last year. The Mountaineers finished 13-16-2 on the year, the only season under interim coach Zack Eckman, and narrowly missed the ACHA DI national tournament field.
Forward Conor Frei, who paced WVU in scoring with 31 points last season (11 goals, 20 assists) returns for his senior season, complemented by junior forward Zack LaDuke (12 G, 8 A, 20 Pts.), senior forward Dusty Campbell (5 G, 12 A, 17 Pts.), senior forward Nick Persichetti (8 G, 7 A, 15 Pts.), and senior defender Dylan Coffee (3 G, 12 A, 15 Pts.).
In goal, the Mountaineers have three viable options returning from last season — senior Eric Schaetzle, who posted a 7-7-1 record with a 3.13 goals-against average and a save percentage of 89.0 in 902 minutes in the net, junior Bob Borcky (2-11, 3.83 GAA, 87.0 SP in 783 minutes), and senior Ryan Schutte, who played the least but whose stats (3-0, 1.33 GAA, 94.0 SP in 180 minutes) are the most impressive.
All-time series: Liberty swept four games against West Virginia last season, winning by 6-1 and 4-1 scores in Charleston, W.Va., and 3-2 and 8-3 margins at home. Those were the two teams' first meetings in at least six years since the Flames moved up from the ACHA DII level.
Coaches: Handy is in his 14th season as the Flames' head coach, with an overall record of 281-122-13. Paul Taibi, a WVU graduate with two decades of coaching experience, is in his first season at the helm of the Mountaineers, replacing Eckman, who played at WVU from 2005-2009.