Club Sports News

No. 7-ranked Liberty expects fierce test from No. 4 Delaware

November 6, 2013  |  Lynchburg, Va. 

Flames senior defenseman and captain Jackson Kuhn transitions the puck out of the defensive zone with backup support from sophomore Brandon Cox, a call-up from the DII team, during last weekend's series with Eastern Michigan.

Coming in at No. 7 in this week's ACHA Division I men's hockey computer rankings, Liberty University will put its 14 -1 record on the line against fourth-ranked Delaware (11-2-1) this Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the LaHaye Ice Center.

"We know Delaware really well and we look forward to the challenge every year," Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. "They took two from us last year (at LaHaye). They're a hard-working team that will give us two great games here. We're looking forward to a big crowd."

The Flames have won seven in a row after having their seven-game season-opening win streak snapped by Arizona on Oct. 11 at LaHaye. No. 11 Ohio (9-4-1), which Liberty swept on the Bobcats' home ice Oct. 4-5, is the highest-ranked team the Flames have faced to date. However, they will conclude their 12-game homestand against the Blue Hens and No. 8 Stony Brook (10-2-1) next Friday and Saturday.

Next semester, Liberty will travel to play No. 2 Arizona State (16-0), which was replaced at No. 1 by defending national champion Minot State (9-0-1) in this week's rankings. But Handy doesn't put too much emphasis on Liberty's opponents, or how highly they're ranked, preferring to focus on what the Flames can control.

"We approach every team the same way and we want to try to be at our best against whoever we play," he said. "The biggest thing for us is to worry about our team and who we are and what we want to become. That's where our focus is."

Scouting Preview, Games 16-17: No. 4 Delaware (11-2-1) vs. No. 7 Liberty (14-1) , Nov. 8 and 9 (7 p.m.) at the LaHaye Ice Center. Both games will be webcast live through the Liberty Flames Sports Network.

Liberty scouting report: Offensively, the Flames are among the highest-scoring teams in the country, ranking third behind Arizona State and Canisius with 78 goals in 15 games (5.3 goals per game). Freshman forward Robert Ward is the ACHA DI rookie points leader with 22 (6 goals, 16 assists).

Junior forward Lindsay LeBlanc (6G, 15A) ranks second on the team in scoring, followed by senior forward and team captain Andrew McCombe (7G, 11A) and senior defenseman and assistant captain Jackson Kuhn (7G, 11A).

The attack should be strengthened by the return of junior forward Christian Garland from injury, adding stability to the Flames' already deep lines.

"We're absolutely confident in all of our players," Handy said. "The four lines we're playing have all played well and continue to roll. We feel confident in our ability to put the puck in the back of the net and to play within the parameters we've set for our guys."

Defensively, Liberty has held its own without the services of junior captain Matt Sherry, who underwent surgery on his injured lower leg last week.

"The six defensemen who have been in there — (Chase) Harris, (Caleb) Grow, (Cam) Bakker, (Steven) Bellew, (Brandon) Cox, and Kuhn — we're happy with the progression they've made in the defensive zone," Handy said.

In goal, Liberty features two standouts — freshman Matt Pinel, who is tied for first in ACHA DI in wins with nine and ranks third among rookies with his 2.48 goals-against average; and senior Blair Bennett (5-0), who ranks sixth among goalies with two or more decisions with his 0.941 save percentage and 11th with his 1.48 GAA.

Delaware scouting report:  The Blue Hens, who will host the March 6-11 ACHA DI National Championships at Fred Rust Arena in Newark, Del., won their first national title in their 39-year history in 2012, beating Oakland 5-1 in the final.

Offensively, Delaware is led by senior forwards Mark Zeszut, who is tied for first in ACHA DI with 17 goals and ranks seventh in scoring with 26 points (17 goals, 9 assists), and Christopher Volonnino (7G, 12A, 19 points), as well as freshman forward John Redgate (7G, 11A, 18P).

Three goaltenders have platooned for the Blue Hens with near-equal success — Patrick Rochefort (2.40 GAA, 0.93 SP) and Noble Tucker (4.15 GAA, 0.85 SP) each have 4-1 records while Dylan Troiano (2-1) has a 2.75 GAA and 0.90 SP.

All-time Series: The Blue Hens lead the Flames in the overall series 11-6-1, winning three of four games last year, including both at Liberty.

Coaches: Kirk Handy, in his 14th season as Flames head coach, has an overall record of 293-123-13. M.F. Schurman, who once played on the same line as Gordie Howe with the Hartford Whalers, is in his fifth season as Delaware's head coach and boasts an overall record of 102-23-3.

 

By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

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