Hockey enters Nationals No. 5
February 28, 2012 | Lynchburg, VA
It's been two years since Liberty University last went to the ACHA National Tournament. Last season, Liberty narrowly missed a chance to compete in the tournament they've been regulars in, but this year, the Liberty men's Division I hockey team is coming back to the national scene much improved.
"We didn't play as many top caliber teams two years ago as we had this year, so we feel pretty good that we're going in battle tested," head coach Kirk Handy said. "We've played a lot of the top teams during the regular season this year and a lot of them ended up being tight games. Those experiences are really going to help us with our matches in the National Tournament. We're confident with the guys we have, we're confident with the coaching staff and we're confident that if we play our games in the way we have been playing them, we're going to be fine."
The Flames head into the tournament with a 23-8 record after testing their mettle in the season with the likes of No. 1 Penn State and No. 3 University of Delaware. They will have to win four games to win the tournament, and the competition gets tougher every season.
"This year's tournament is more open than it's ever been. I think there are probably eight teams that have a really good chance of winning, and I would put us in that eight," Handy said. "On any given night, any team can win if they've been playing their game. Anytime you're going into a tournament like this, it's a great privilege to be going and it shows the amount of work each player put in to get to that point."
Since their last appearance in the national tournament, the Flames feature 11 players on the roster who have not seen the playoffs.
"I would say that we have a team that's just as good (as previous teams), and I think we're a bit more solid in some areas than we were back then," Handy said. "We have a younger team this year, and every year is different."
The 2012 ACHA National Tournament will be a single elimination tournament. The Liberty Flames will face Adrian College for the first match, and the winner will move on to play a game with another contender for a spot in the semi-finals. All teams will then be re-seeded, and the semi-finalists will face each other for a chance to compete in the finals, which will be played Tuesday, March 6.
"In a single elimination tournament, you have to be prepared from the drop of the puck," Handy said. "We want to keep our focus from the get-go. We're trying not to put too much pressure on ourselves. We are aiming to find that spot where we have a lot of fun, but we're working hard at the same time."
Liberty will face Adrian College on March 3 at Hoover Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.