Flames start 2014 with two big road trips back-to-back
January 9, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team enjoyed more than a month-long Christmas layoff before opening the 2014 portion of its schedule this Saturday at Stony Brook (N.Y.) University.
However, in the first week of the second half of their season, the Flames confront two short recovery times.
First, after Saturday's 8:30 p.m. faceoff against the Seawolves, Liberty returns to center ice approximately 12 hours later for a noon rematch with Stony Brook. Then, three days after returning from Long Island, the Flames fly to Arizona for a game at top-ranked Arizona State (23-0) on Jan. 16 and two against Arizona on Jan. 17-18.
"It'll be two very quick turnarounds, but we're excited," Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. "Getting back from Christmas break, the guys feel ready to play after a real solid week of practice."
Liberty (20-3), which slipped one spot to No. 4 in this week's 14th ACHA DI national rankings, split its home series against the Seawolves, Nov. 15-16 at the LaHaye Ice Center. The Flames won the first game in a shootout after tying the game in the final 12 seconds of regulation but were then shut out for the first time in more than two years in the rematch.
Ohio (20-5-1) moved ahead of the Flames into the No. 3 spot although Liberty swept the Bobcats in early October in Athens, Ohio.
After winning six games in a row before entering its series at Liberty, the Seawolves have now split their past three series — against the Flames, Rhode Island, and Lebanon Valley.
"Stony Brook's a solid opponent and we're looking forward to the opportunity of playing them again," Handy said. "It's a tough place to play and we're going to have to play our best to beat them."
Over the break, Liberty called up a second sophomore out of the Buffalo, N.Y., area from the Division II team — forward Peter Kazmierczak. Brandon Cox (Orchard Park, N.Y.) was promoted after junior defenseman and assistant captain Matt Sherry was injured in late September.
Both Sherry and sophomore defenseman Kyle Miller are expected to return from their injuries in the first week of February. Junior forward Christian Garland will make the trip to Stony Brook after suffering an injury of his own in late November.
Scouting Preview, Games 24-25: No. 4 Liberty (20-3) vs. No. 9 Stony Brook (14-3-3), Jan. 10 (8:30 p.m.) and Jan. 11 (noon) at The Rinx near Hauppauge, N.Y. Both games will be webcast live on Stony Brook's website.
Liberty scouting report: Historically, the Flames have had their way against the Seawolves, winning 17 out of 23 meetings in their rivalry.
Offensively, the Flames are among the highest-scoring teams in the country, nearly doubling their opponents' output, 108-56.
Junior forward Lindsay LeBlanc (12 goals, 19 assists) and freshman forward Robert Ward (9G, 22A) are tied atop Liberty's scoring leaders with 31 points. Ward ranks fourth in scoring and first in assists among ACHA DI rookies.
Senior forward and team captain Andrew McCombe (12G, 16A) ranks third on the team in scoring followed by senior defenseman and assistant captain Jackson Kuhn (7G, 18A) and junior forward Ryley Egan (11G, 8A).
In goal, Liberty platoons senior Blair Bennett (10-1, 2.12 GAA, 0.92 SP) and freshman Matt Pinel (10-2, 2.75 GAA, 0.90 SP), who ranks second among ACHA DI rookies in wins.
Stony Brook scouting report: 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 355-125-18 overall record.
The Seawolves dealt No. 3 Robert Morris Illinois (20-3-1) its first setback with a 4-3 shootout win Oct. 11.
Junior forward Ryan Cotcamp is the Seawolves' leading scorer with 30 points, including 20 goals, while senior forward Dan Cassano is a close second with 29 points, including 24 assists, tied for fourth most in ACHA DI. Brendan Jones has played the majority of the minutes in goal for the Seawolves (749), going 8-4 with a 2.80 GAA. But his backups — Todd Scarola (3.00 GAA in 248 minutes) and Derek Williams (3.15 GAA in 229 minutes) — have played nearly as well, with each posting 3-1 records and matching Jones' 0.90 save percentage.
All-time Series: Liberty leads the all-time series with Stony Brook 17-3-3 after winning three of four games against the Seawolves last season.
Coaches: Kirk Handy, in his 14th season as Flames head coach, is on the verge of his 300th victory with an overall record of 299-125-13. Chris Garofalo, in his fourth season as head coach of the Seawolves, has an overall record of 70-42-4.