Mar 6, 2007

Hockey ends successful inaugural season in D-I

by Will Luper, Sports Reporter
A regular season that saw Liberty win 29 of its 35 games, sporting one of the league’s most powerful offenses, ended with bitter defeat at the hands of top-seeded Penn State in the second round of the Division-I National Championships this past Thursday.

It was the second game in two days for Liberty.

The day before, in the opening round of the tournament, the Flames defeated the host team — Kent State University — by a score of 9-1.

As the story has been, ever since they first combined on a line, the play of freshman Zac Bauman, sophomore John Langabeer and freshman Kyle Dodgson provided to be a deadly combination for the Flames against KSU.

Langabeer had two goals, with Bauman and Dodgson each adding a goal. Each player on the line provided an assist as well, combining for a total of seven points.

Head Coach Kirk Handy elaborated. “That whole line played very well, (but) it was a complete team effort,” he said.

“All four lines were playing, all six defensemen were playing and Mike Binnie played very well.”
With eleven total players factoring into the scoring, it is no surprise that Liberty was the dominant team in the game.

The defensive pairing of junior Aaron MacKenzie and junior Rob Niemi also put up big numbers, with both defensemen getting a goal and combining for three assists.

The Flames defense was just as potent as the offense, as they limited Kent State to only 20 shots on goal, making the game an easy victory for junior goalie Binnie.

The only blemish on his game came from Kent State’s Volet Wolff, who scored with only 1:12 left in the second period.

It was not enough, however, as by the end of the first two periods, Liberty had racked up an 8-1 lead.

“We caught Kent State by surprise,” said Handy. “They’re an offensive team, and we dictated the tempo of the game to them, which was something that they were not used to.”

The next day, the Flames had a formidable opponent lined up when they faced number one Penn State.

“They’re the number one team in the nation for a reason. They’ve been in the championship game for nine straight years. They’re like the New York Yankees of ACHA Division-I hockey,” said Handy.

The Nittany Lions came into the game with an offense that had not put up numbers anywhere close to the Flames, relying more heavily on fantastic goaltending and strong defensive play.
Their leading scorer, Lukas DeLorenzo, had only 41 points in the regular season.

On the other hand, the Flames top point-getters, Dave Semenya and Kyle Dodgson, were tied with 67 points apiece.

Unfortunately, the Flames offense could not get past Penn State’s strong defensive play, and even when they did, goalie Chris Matteo was ready and waiting. The struggles on the power play might have been the key, as the Flames went just one for eight, including 1:34 of a two-man advantage.
Penn State, only successful on one of nine power plays themselves, scored one second after Dave Semenya was sent to the penalty box for slashing.

The penalty left the Flames two men down and gave the Nittany Lions the opportunity they needed.
“The score would have been a lot worse if it weren’t for Dalton Stoltz,” explained Handy.
“He absolutely stood on his head (and) kept us in the game the whole time.”

So at the end of their first season in Division-I hockey, the Flames were ranked sixth in the country. Considering that they were the new kids on the block, the Flames made a statement to the rest of the league that they have a solid program.

Liberty will continue to build with a strong recruiting class for next year — one that Handy says “will compete and one we can look forward to having an even better year (with).”

Contact Will Luper at wluper@liberty.edu.

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