Liberty University Mid-Season Report:
December 11, 2011 | Lynchburg, VA
As Liberty's division one men's hockey team heads into the break fresh off a win against #1 Penn State, there is no time more appropriate to reflect back on the events that have occurred this past semester.
Ranked 15th in the preseason coaches poll, Liberty opened up the season against the Atlanta Jr. Flames, and got two big victories thanks to a couple goals by Scott Morongell in game one, giving the Flames a 6-2 win, and a shutout by Clayton Brown in game two, where the Flames won 4-0. Despite these two wins, the Flames came out of that weekend with quite a few injuries, and that left them shorthanded going into a big matchup against Oakland in Michigan, a place where LU hasn't won in three years.
In game one the Flames gave up the early lead; however thanks to four unanswered goals in the second period and two points by Jake Hannon, the Flames were able to get the victory. The Flames dropped game two by the score of 3-2 in a shootout; however, this did not stop the Flames from moving to 13th in the polls.
Next up for Liberty was a home series against Robert Morris of PA. That weekend the Flames erupted, scoring a total of sixteen goals and only allowing two. Rick Turner registered two hat tricks, and Brent Boschman had one goal and a whopping six assists. Additionally, in his first game as a Flame, Lindsay Leblanc registered four points.
Liberty carried this momentum into the 2011 ACHA Showcase Tournament in Illinois, where the Flames beat both #14 Robert Morris of Illinois and #19 Kent State handedly. In game three of the weekend Liberty took on Arizona State, who is currently ranked 3rd in the polls. After a great game played by Joe Smith and Blair Bennett, the Flames unfortunately lost in the 10th round of a shootout.
The Flames then returned home for a 9 game homestand, where they first met up with the D2 Kennesaw State Owls, and they certainly did not take this game lightly winning by a 16-4 margin. Seth Jensen, Matt Sherry, and Aaron Semiao all scored two goals for the Flames.
Liberty then saw a huge jump in the rankings and was brought up to the number 9 spot prior to taking on reigning ACHA champion, Davenport Panthers. The Flames dropped game one to Davenport in overtime by the score of 4-3. In game two the Flames saw their undefeated regulation streak end as Davenport defeated the Flames 4-2.
The 11th ranked Adrian Bulldogs were the next opponent for LU. In game one of the two-game series the Flames turned up the heat. Boschman had two goals to go along with one assistant, and freshman, Luke Baumgarten had a goal and assist of his own to help give the Flames the win. Game two, however, was a different story, as the Flames lost 4-3.
Losing three of the last four, the Flames had to take both games against the Stony Brook Seawolves the follow weekend, and they did just that, securing 8-5 and 5-3 wins. In game one the Flames faced a one goal deficit heading into the third, but notched five goals in that period to get the victory. Boschman put up five points in the game and McCombe was right behind with three. McCombe followed up that performance with a hat trick in the second game of the series.
Currently ranked at number 2, the Delaware Blue Hens came into the Lahaye Ice Center with no regulation losses on the year. In two very hard fought games, the Flames struggled to find an answer to beat the Delaware net minder and unfortunately dropped both games by the scores of 3-0 and 4-2.
The following week the Flames hit the road for the first time in over a month and flew to Oklahoma for a matchup with both Oklahoma University and Central Oklahoma. The Flames played very sloppy against the 7th ranked Sooners and lost their third straight game, this time by the score of 3-2. Despite the previous losses the Flames saw their ranking move up to 8th in the polls. The Flames rebounded nicely against UCO, and took game one by a 5-3 margin. In that game, Matt Sherry scored a powerplay for the second consecutive game, and Joe Smith notched two points of his own. Playing for the third straight day, the Flames put forth perhaps their best defensive game of the season. Blair Bennett posted his second shutout of the season by stopping all 40 shots that went his way, and Flames took game three of the weekend by a score of 3-0.
The Flames returned home following the Thanksgiving holiday for their annual matchup against the Virginia Tech Hokies. In this game McCombe continued his hot streak and factored into all four goals that Liberty scored on that day. The Flames easily defeated the Hokies by a score of 4-1.
LU carried their three game win streak into their huge matchup against #1 Penn State. The Nittany Lion Icers, who carry a roster of 30 guys, many of which will make the team next season when they make the jump to NCAA Division I, had only one loss entering into their two game series with the eighth ranked Flames. Facing a one-goal deficit entering into the third, the Flames capitalized on a two-on-one to tie the game midway through the period. Later, Jake Hannon scored his third goal of the season while on the powerplay to give Liberty a 4-3 lead. The Flames, then, held off a late rush by Penn State to knock off the number one ranked team in the country. The Flames unfortunately dropped the second game of the series; however, it was only by the score of 4-2, a margin that is very formidable.
Heading into the second semester, the Flames are looking forward to matchups on the road against #16 Stony Brook, #13 Davenport, and a huge rematch against #2 Delaware. At home, the Flames will take on longtime rival #15 Oakland as well as Lebanon Valley and #18 Central Oklahoma.
by Derek Young - December 2011