Apr 4, 2006

Hockey moves to D-I

by By David Thompson
Next year, Liberty will be moving to the more competitive Division-I of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, which includes such teams as Ohio, Iowa State and Penn State — all upper-level competitors.

The ACHA is not the NCAA by any means, as even the Division-I teams do not get nearly the same exposure that NCAA teams generally capture, but moving to this upper echelon is a step in the right direction.

The move will give Liberty’s team the opportunity to play higher level teams than they have traditionally competed against in Division-II, while allowing them to keep away from traveling expenses that would beset them in a jump to the NCAA. It will also give Liberty a chance to see how well they compete at this level before competing against the stiff competition sure to come in the NCAA.

Liberty recently competed in the ACHA Division-II championship, taking the national runner-up spot, right behind Oakland, after taking the University Hockey League title for the second straight year.

Moving up with Liberty are UHL co-contenders Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, as well as Oakland and Davenport.

Some of the teams in the ACHA are comparable to NCAA teams, but have decided to remain where they are because of the increase in expenses required to join the NCAA.

One of these expenses is a 2,500-seat hockey rink. This criteria poses no dilemma for Liberty, should a move be considered, as the new LaHaye Ice Center seats 4,000.

NCAA hockey is in no way an unreachable dream for Liberty, although it would be highly unusual. The only team in the southeast quarter of the United States that plays in NCAA Division-I is the University of Alabama-Huntsville. The Lynchburg News and Advance quoted team captain Dalton Stoltz as saying, “Having hockey in the southeastern United States, and at a Christian school, is a complete oxymoron. Just for that unique opportunity, I didn’t want it to go to waste.”

Also, according to the News and Advance, Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty’s vice chancellor, said, “No question, (the NCAA is) the goal. It won’t be in the immediate future. I’m not sure how far down the road it will be. One thing that has to be considered is the potential revenue a hockey program can bring.”

Liberty is currently making advances toward a women’s hockey team, which, under Title IX, is another requirement for NCAA play. The women’s team will play an exhibition schedule this season and will hopefully be ready to compete the following season.

Men’s Head Coach Kirk Handy told the News and Advance, “We’ve already got girls who are e-mailing us about potentially playing on the team next year. The word’s not only here on campus, but it’s starting to spread out.”

Liberty’s hockey is not just about the school, Stoltz told the News and Advance. “This isn’t just Liberty’s hockey team, as far as the guys in the locker room are concerned. It’s Lynchburg’s hockey team as well.”

With the support of the school and the community behind them, the men’s team is looking forward to the stiffer competition in Division-I, and like most students, hope to see NCAA play in the near future.

Contact David Thompson at dbthompson@liberty.edu.

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