Flames to close 2013 slate Saturday against red-hot Hokies
December 5, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team, coming off a sweep at Oakland (Mich.) that put an abrupt end to its first two-game losing skid of the season, will host Virginia Tech's Division II squad Saturday night in the final game of 2013 for any of Liberty's five teams (DI, DII, DII men; DI, DII women) at the LaHaye Ice Center.
Before opening the 2014 half of its schedule Jan 11-12 at No. 10 Stony Brook (N.Y.), the Flames (19-3) can't afford to overlook their closest rivals from Blacksburg, Va., who are off to their best-ever start at 14-2.
"It's a great opportunity to play an in-state rival," Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. "It draws a lot of fan interest (and) it's an extremely important game for us. We're looking forward to making sure we end the semester on a great note."
Liberty is 7-0 against Virginia Tech since moving up to the ACHA's highest level, but the series has become more and more competitive in recent years. After dominating the first five matchups, the Flames' last two meetings with the Hokies have been much more evenly matched, with Liberty prevailing 4-1 on Dec. 5, 2011, before erasing an early deficit in a 5-2 conquest last Jan. 20.
"We've played them for years and we always know Virginia Tech is going to come ready to play and to battle hard," Handy said. "They've always had a good program and the last couple of years, they've raised it by a huge degree."
He anticipates a somewhat hostile atmosphere generated by Hokies fans in town for the contest, but doesn't expect that to distract the Flames' focus on their long-range goals.
"We're most concerned about our players and team and continuing on the journey we started in mid-August that goes to the middle of March," when Liberty plans to make its seventh ACHA DI National Tournament showing in eight seasons since losing to Oakland in the ACHA DII championship game.
Scouting Preview, Game 23: Virginia Tech (14-2) vs. No. 4 Liberty (19-3), Dec. 7 (7 p.m.) at the LaHaye Ice Center. The game will be webcast live through the Liberty Flames Sports Network.
Liberty scouting report: While it bounced back up to No. 4 in the 11th ACHA rankings released this week, Liberty is now tied for sixth in the league in scoring. The Flames trail Central Oklahoma (133 goals), Arizona State University (116) — the top-ranked ACHA DI team in the nation at 21-0 — Adrian (106), No. 3 Oklahoma (106), and Buffalo (104). With 102 goals in 22 games (4.6 per game), Liberty is tied with Mercyhurst for sixth most, one more than No. 7 Ohio, which it swept Oct. 4-5, and three more than No. 19 Oakland.
The Flames' attack is fueled by five players with more than 20 points — freshman forward Robert Ward (9G, 19A), who ranks second among rookies with 28 points; junior forward Lindsay LeBlanc (11G, 16A, 27P); senior forward and captain Andrew McCombe (10G, 16A, 26P); senior defenseman and captain Jackson Kuhn (7G, 16A, 23P); and freshman forward Charles Williams (10G, 12A, 22P).
Balanced scoring production is Liberty's strength this season as evidenced by the fact that it boasts eight more players who have reached double-figures in points — junior forward Ryley Egan (11G, 7A, 18P); freshman forward Brandon Mistal (6G, 10A, 16P); sophomore defenseman Steven Bellew (1G, 15A, 16P); sophomore forward Bram Erickson (7G, 7A, 14P); sophomore forward Danny Logan (4G, 10A, 14P); junior defenseman Cam Bakker (7G, 4A, 11P); sophomore forward D.J. Dinnison (4G, 7A, 11P); and sophomore forward Tyson Street (3G, 7A, 10P).
In goal, the Flames feature the same type of balance, with senior Blair Bennett (9-1, 2.04 goals-against average, one shutout, 0.92 save percentage in 675 minutes) nearly matched by freshman Matt Pinel (10-2, 2.75 GAA, one SO, 0.90 SP in 655 minutes).
The Flames' defense will be bolstered by the return of sophomore Brandon Cox from injury.
Virginia Tech scouting report: Virginia Tech is currently ranked second in the ACHA DII Southeast Region. Junior forward Alex Smith leads the Hokies in scoring with 19 points (9G, 10A) on the season followed by junior forward Zack Walz (7G, 7A, 14P), sophomore defenseman Alec Burgman (4G, 10A, 14P), freshman forward Douglas MacDonald (4G, 8A, 12P), junior forward Alex Hashmi (3G, 8A, 11P) and senior forward Tyler Daley (3G, 8A, 11P).
Junior goalie Walker Detweiler has posted three shutouts and comes in with an impressive 0.922 save percentage and a 2.30 goals-against average.
All-time series: Liberty is 7-0 against Virginia Tech since moving up to the ACHA Division I level, including a 5-2 triumph over the Hokies last Jan. 20 at the LaHaye Ice Center.
Coaches: Kirk Handy, in his 14th season as Flames head coach, has an overall record of 298-125-13. Joey Mullen, nephew of the NHL Hall of Famer by the same name, is in his third season as Virginia Tech's head coach. He guided the Hokies to the ACHA DII National Tournament for the first time in 2012 and to the MACH tournament championship last year. His record now stands at 42-28-4.