Flames, Seawolves riding win streaks into weekend series
November 13, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team swapped places with Delaware in this week's eighth regular-season ACHA Division I rankings after the Flames swept the Blue Hens last Friday and Saturday at the LaHaye Ice Center.
Liberty moved up three rungs to No. 4 and Delaware slipped to No. 7 in the computer-generated rankings.
This weekend, the Flames will conclude their 12-game homestand with a pair of games against No. 11 Stony Brook, a perennial power that they have defeated 16 out of 20 times in their rivalry. Both teams are on winning streaks with Liberty having won nine in a row and the Seawolves coming in on a six-game roll.
"Any time we play Stony Brook, they're always close games, and I would expect this weekend to be another battle between two teams right in the mix with regards to the rankings," Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. "We've had a great rivalry and have maintained a relationship where we've played four times a year."
The Seawolves have qualified for 14 consecutive ACHA National Tournaments, including the past six at the Division I level after moving up from DII the year after the Flames. Since the 1999-2000 season, when it finished 33-5-1 and had a team-best 20-game winning streak, Stony Brook boasts a 352-122-18 overall record.
"Stony Brook has a strong program and every year they're a top team who's going to be there at nationals," Handy said.
But like Liberty, the Seawolves have never won a national championship, advancing to the DII final in 2003 before falling to Colorado. The Flames have made it to six of seven DI national tournaments since losing to Oakland in the 2006 DII championship game.
This season, Stony Brook dropped two 4-3 decisions — the first in overtime — at home against Delaware. That was the same weekend in early October that Liberty swept Ohio in Athens, Ohio. Those were the Flames' two biggest wins of the season before this past weekend's triumphs over the then-fourth-ranked Blue Hens, capped by a thrilling 5-4 shootout win. The Seawolves dealt No. 3 Robert Morris Illinois (11-1-1) its only setback with a 4-3 shootout win in the opening game of an ACHA Shootout Oct. 11 at Ohio.
"We have very similar schedules and both teams are going to come ready to play," Handy said. "Our guys are going to have to keep working hard and be ready to go both Friday and Saturday night."
Liberty may have to rely on its balanced attack to match the Seawolves' scoring punch as its back line will be shorthanded for the second straight week. The Flames will be without injured sophomore defensemen Brandon Cox and Kyle Miller as well as junior assistant captain Matt Sherry, who has been sidelined since Sept. 27 when he suffered a leg injury against Towson. After undergoing surgery in late October, Sherry isn't expected to return to the ice until next semester and Liberty likely will have to travel to Michigan to face No. 15 Davenport (Nov. 21) and No. 21 Oakland (Nov. 22-23) without Cox and Miller.
"Our strength comes from our four lines being able to play solid night-in and night-out," Handy said. "Our success this year has been based on our ability to work hard and focusing on our team and not who we're playing. Obviously, we respect who we're playing, but we're looking to continue to improve what we do."
Scouting Preview, Games 18-19: No. 4 Liberty (16-1) vs. No. 11 Stony Brook (11-2-1), Nov. 15 and 16 (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. They rank third with 89 goals in 17 games (5.2 goals per game) behind only No. 1 Arizona State University (108) — which improved to 19-0 and dropped defending ACHA DI national champion Minot State to No. 2 with a 2-1 win last week — and 10-12 Canisius College (99). Junior forward Lindsay LeBlanc (9 goals, 15 assists, 24 points) scored the first and last goals of regulation in Saturday's dramatic shootout win over Delaware to move into Liberty's scoring lead, followed closely by freshman forward Robert Ward, who is tied for the ACHA DI rookie points lead with 23, including 17 assists which is tied for ninth most in the league overall.
Senior forward and team captain Andrew McCombe (10G, 12A) netted three goals in the two games against the Blue Hens to stay ranked third on the team in scoring with 22 points followed by senior defenseman and assistant captain Jackson Kuhn (7G, 12A) and freshman forward Charles Williams (9G, 10A) with 19 points each and junior forward Ryley Egan (10G, 7A), who netted the game-winning goal in the fifth and final round of the shootout.
In goal, Liberty has started to platoon freshman Matt Pinel (9-1), who ranks third in ACHA DI in wins and third among rookies with two or more decisions with his 2.48 goals-against average, and senior Blair Bennett (7-0) with more regularity. Bennett started both games against the Blue Hens and ranks 11th among goalies with more than two decisions with his 1.71 GAA and 14th with his. 0.929 save percentage.
Stony Brook scouting report: Junior forward Ryan Cotcamp is the Seawolves' leading scorer with 26 points, including 16 goals, which ranks him sixth in the nation, while senior forward Dan Cassano is second with 22 points, including 19 assists, the fourth most in ACHA DI. Stony Brook features five players with 13 points — senior forward Wes Hawkins (9G, 4A), junior forward Vincent Lopes (7G, 6A), junior forward Nick Barbera (5G, 8A), junior defenseman Chris Joseph (3G, 10A), and junior forward Sam Brewster (3G, 10A).
Brendan Jones has played the majority of the minutes in goal for the Seawolves, going 6-1 with a 2.74 GAA and a 0.88 SP. But his backups — Todd Scarola (3.33 GAA, 0.87 SP) and Derek Williams (3.23 GAA, 0.90 SP) — have played nearly as well, with each posting 2-1 records.
All-time Series: Liberty leads the all-time series with Stony Brook 16-2-3 after winning three of four games against the Seawolves last season, including two at the LaHaye Ice Center that were delayed a month to Dec. 7-8 by Hurricane Sandy.
Coaches: Kirk Handy, in his 14th season as Flames head coach, has an overall record of 295-123-13. Chris Garofalo is in his fourth season as head coach of the Seawolves, but has been with the team since 1992, filling many roles from player to general manager to coach. He has an overall record of 67-39-4.