- By Kyle Harvey
- Published: February 21st, 2012
Men’s hockey wins against OCU
Liberty Men’s Division 1 hockey concluded its 2011-12 season Saturday with a two game sweep of No. 15 Central Oklahoma University. The Flames netted 11 goals over two games, winning 8-2 on Friday and 3-1 on Saturday.
“Confidence is huge,” head coach Kirk Handy said. “I think we were able to gain that this weekend for sure. We wanted to play two real solid games and we accomplished that.”
The set was a rematch of an earlier matchup this year for both teams. The Flames traveled to Edmond, Okla. in November, winning two games 5-3 and 3-0.
“We played them twice earlier in the year and played two very close games to them, so it was pretty big to come out here and beat them 8-2 yesterday and … beat them today pretty easily,” senior defender Seth Jensen said. “I think it shows that we’re getting better as a team and we’re really ready to hopefully make some noise at nationals.”
For seniors, emotions ran high as the weekend represented their last time taking the ice as a Liberty University Flame in the regular season. Perhaps none ran higher than senior captain and emotional leader Joe Smith.
“Let me start with Joe. Obviously, wearing the ‘C’ for us is huge,” Handy said. “The character, the hard work and the consistency it takes, the leadership ability — Joe’s risen to that and more as our captain. Having our team be a .500 team last year and then turning that around this year to such a great extent is all attributable to the leadership Joe brings to the table.
“We’re going to miss him inside and outside the locker room.
“Joe’s a phenomenal leader for our program,” Handy said.
“I’ve been trying to prepare for this for a long time because I knew I was going to be emotional. I made the decision that I wasn’t going to dwell on the fact that it was my last game, I just wanted to play,” forward Joe Smith said. “We wanted to carry momentum into nationals and we decided that was what this game was going to be for.”
“It was kind of nerve-racking going into it for some reason. I think it’s just because it’s the last one you want to play well,” senior forward Luke Aitken said.
Aitken did what he hoped to do, scoring in his last game before a crowd of friends and family.
“Fortunately, our line was doing well. I got the puck and got a goal, which was a good thing it happened when my family was here. It doesn’t really hit me that it’s my last one because we’re going to Nationals, but it’s probably going to feel like it later on tonight,” Aitken said.
“What Luke brought to the table this year was this: he showed our team that we can play all four lines and he’s proven to guys that are on the third and fourth lines that they are a valuable part of our team and they can play big roles for us. In a game like tonight, Smith, Aitken and Kerr scored two of the three goals and were a big reason why we won this hockey game,” Handy said.
The last home games of the year were standing room only, a tribute to the kind of support hockey has enjoyed over the years. The players took note.
“It’s been an awesome journey being here, being a part of this program, the last four years. God’s really blessed this program a lot in terms of fans and everything we have, the intensity of the team. This weekend, yesterday and today, I was just trying to take it in and love every second of it,” Jensen said.
Not unlike their loyal fans, Handy cites Jensen’s consistency and commitment as one of the many reasons for the program’s success.
“Seth Jensen obviously is a huge calming influence on Cam Bakker, who he’s played defense partner with. He’s a great guy in the locker room, someone who’s consistent. He’s there every day and he’s the same guy Monday through Sunday,” Handy said.
Jake Hannon is another player that played his final game on Saturday. The defender provided a veteran presence that will be missed dearly by teammates and coaches.
“It’s been such a blessing to be here.This has been my favorite time ever in my life playing hockey. We just have an unbelievable group of guys and coaching staff, the school, how many fans we get, we’re just really blessed to be able to enjoy all this. It’s been special,” Hannon said.
“Jake has been able to show veteran leadership to our bench score and he’s been a key component for Josh Cornelissen’s success as well. But from a spiritual standpoint, Jake really was able to elevate certain aspects of our team and that’s a legacy that all of those guys are going to leave,” Handy said.
Looking forward, Handy hopes his team can hold the same level of intensity, while also playing smart hockey.
“We got to play physical with an edge, but we need to stay out of the penalty box and discipline is going to be a key factor for us going into the national tournament,” Handy said.
The American Collegiate Hockey Association national tournament, hosted by Kent State University, begins March 2 at Hoover Arena in Cleveland.
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