Flames welcome Mountaineers for ACHA season finales
February 13, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
West Virginia University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team must travel through snow over the Blue Ridge Mountains to get to Lynchburg for this weekend's games against Liberty University at the LaHaye Ice Center, much like the Flames did last January when the teams met at a neutral site in Charleston, W.Va.
Hosting its final ACHA Division I regular-season series this Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. should be good preparation for Liberty as it gears up for the March 6-11 ACHA DI National Championships in Newark, Del.
By winning the Collegiate Hockey Mid-America Conference regular-season title, the Mountaineers have already clinched one of seven automatic bids to the national tournament, and the Flames could potentially meet them a fifth time this season.
"There is a possibility we could see them again," Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said.
If the Flames wind up seeded No. 4, their latest position in the ACHA DI rankings, and the No. 23 Mountaineers are deemed the No. 20 seed and upset the 13th-seeded team in their first-round matchup, Liberty would face WVU in the second round.
West Virginia is a much better team than the one that was swept by the Flames, 7-2 and 6-3, on its home ice in its season opener.
"Those games were a little closer than the scores indicated," Handy said. "They have a good team and they work hard and you can tell that they're well coached. In order to make it to the national tournament, you have to play consistently throughout the year and they've really improved as the season's gone on."
In the second game in Morgantown, W.Va., Liberty actually trailed the Mountaineers 3-1 in the closing seconds of the second period before scoring three goals in a span of 54 seconds to take the lead for good, outshooting WVU 21-2 in the final period.
"They're a hard-working team, lines that all work hard," Handy said. "They've played good teams, like Stony Brook, Delaware, and Ohio, teams that are already going to nationals. We're going to have to be the hardest working team on the ice and we're going to have to come ready to match their intensity from the start."
Liberty will again support Gleaning for the World with the Teddy Bear Brigade during Saturday's game. Spectators will receive free admission with the donation of a stuffed animal, which they are encouraged to throw onto the ice immediately after the Flames' first goal.
Scouting Preview, Games 35-36: No. 23 West Virginia (14-16-2) vs. No. 4 Liberty University (26-6-2), Feb. 14 and 15 (7 p.m.) at the LaHaye Ice Center. Both games will be webcast live through the Liberty Flames Sports Network.
Liberty Scouting Report: The Flames netted a season-high 11 goals in Saturday's second game against Oakland, including a career-high five by junior forward and leading scorer Lindsay LeBlanc, who eclipsed the 50-point mark (21 goals, 29 assists) on the season. Freshman forward Robert Ward added a goal and four assists in that contest, bringing his points total to 46 (17G, 29A). He is now tied for second on the team in scoring with senior forward and captain Andrew McCombe (16G, 30A), who had a goal and two assists on Saturday, with senior defenseman Jackson Kuhn (14G, 25A), and junior forward Ryley Egan (16G, 15A) ranking fourth and fifth, respectively, on an extremely balanced offensive unit. The Flames have now outscored opponents 152-92.
Senior goalie Blair Bennett (14-4-1, 2.41 goals-against average, 0.92 save percentage) has played nearly 60 percent of the minutes in goal for the Flames. Freshman Matt Pinel, meanwhile, has been nearly as effective between the pipes, going 12-3 with a 3.08 GAA and 0.90 SP.
Half of Liberty's losses this season have come against Arizona State University, the No. 1 team in ACHA DI.
West Virginia Scouting Report: The Mountaineers are coming off a 2-0 loss to rival Virginia Tech's DII team on Sunday, their sixth loss in the past eight games. Last season, they had a seven-game winning streak bookended by two-game sweeps at the hands of the Flames.
WVU's offense is sparked by a strong forward corps led by junior Zack LaDuke (21G, 20A), senior Conor Frei, (11G, 16A), junior Trey Bracy (10G, 16A), and senior Sam Jarrett (14G, 11A).
In goal, the Mountaineers rely on senior Eric Schaetzle (7-8-1, 3.17 GAA, 0.88 SP) and junior Bob Borcky (1-6-1, 4.08 GAA, 0.89 SP), while senior Ryan Schutte has the most impressive stats (2-0, 2.61 GAA, 0.91 SP) in limited playing time.
All-time series: Liberty is now 6-0 against West Virginia, following its 7-2 and 6-3 victories Sept. 21-22 in Morgantown, W.Va. swept four games against West Virginia last season, winning by 6-1 and 4-1 scores in Charleston, W.Va., and 3-2 and 8-3 margins at home. Those were the two teams' first meetings in at least six years since the Flames moved up from the ACHA DII level.
Coaches: Handy is in his 14th season as the Flames' head coach, with an overall record of 205-127-15. Paul Taibi is in his first season at the helm of the Mountaineers after serving on the staff for the past two decades.