Feb 27, 2007

Hockey more than just a game for Handy

by Eric Brown, Sports Reporter
Leadership guru John C. Maxwell once said, “A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”

This statement rings true for Liberty Hockey’s Head Coach Kirk Handy.

Handy works at the Visitors Center in residential recruiting, a position that is not necessarily required to make ground-breaking decisions on campus.

However, Handy’s position plays a secondary role to the amount of passion he possesses for the sport of hockey and his commitment to Liberty University.

Several years ago, Handy only dreamed of watching his players shoot pucks on their very own hockey rink.

With abundant support from Dr. Jerry Falwell and Chief Operations Officer Dr. Ronald Godwin, as well as financial support from Dr. Tim LaHaye, Handy’s dream became a reality.

The head coach promoted the idea of building an ice center on campus and attended meetings with builders and planners who saw the operation through.

Of course, Handy’s vision started long before construction began on the LaHaye Ice Center. He began playing for the Flames in the mid 1990s.

As a player, Handy became known for his great intensity, equipped with the ability to score goals in big games. After his playing career ended, Handy found himself on the sidelines as the Flames assistant coach. The following year Handy moved up to head coach, teaching players he previously played alongside.

“My main concern back then was basically, ‘You are coaching on your own,’” said Handy. “You were the coach. You were the doctor. You were the athletic trainer You were the statistician and you were the general manager. I was basically by myself.”

While the first year proved to be somewhat difficult, Handy managed to recruit 13 freshmen and end the 2000-2001 season with a 20-5 record.

The very next season, the Flames played their way to nationals and just two years later, finished eighth in the country in their division.

Now in his sixth season as head coach, Handy and his team compete in ACHA Division-I Hockey, the highest level a team can compete before making it to NCAA Division-I ranks.

Except for occasional outbursts, Handy is not as animated as he was as a player. However, there are occasions where he “jumps for joy” after a big play.

Last year, Handy and the Flames went on a run the second half of the season, making it into the ACHA Div-ision-II national tour-nament.

In the semifinal game of the tournament, Liberty scored in the first 16 seconds. Associate Head Coach Jeff Boettger recalls Handy’s unusual reaction.

“I turn around, and he was flying over top of the bench,” said Boettger. “He went from the back behind the bench and did this cart-wheel loop maneuver thing, flying over top of the boards and onto the ice. His enthusiasm is second to none.”

Handy’s passion for Liberty hockey extends beyond the game to the players he coaches night in and night out.

Reaching the national tournament three straight years is no doubt a big feat for any coach. However, one of Handy’s biggest accomplishments occurred off the ice several years ago when he led one of his players to the Lord. He tries to connect with his players as much as possible and values his relationship with them.

“A lot of hockey coaches will really be hard to talk to and really hard to play for, but he has always been really pleasant to be around,” said junior captain Jimmy Stewart.

“You can tell he really cares for you as a player. It’s not just a job for him.”

Stewart is right. Head coaching is much more than a job for Handy – it is a ministry. Recruit-ing guys who want to play hockey for Liberty University becomes rather difficult at times.

Year after year, however, Handy finds a way to recruit skilled players from around the U.S. and Canada who are willing to play for no scholarship.

He simply brings the recruits down to Liberty and explains to them the ground rules. The recruits then decide if playing at Liberty is right for them.

So how is Handy able to handle being a Christian coach in a violent sport like hockey?

“That’s the number one question you always get asked,” says Assistant Coach Jeff Lowes.
“We tell our guys, you got to ride the line of intensity, but not cross over. That’s what he (Handy) brings to the table.”

In the winter of last year, Handy turned the on-ice duties of being a coach over to Coach Boettger, focusing more on other responsibilities such as fundraising, scheduling and recruiting.

The players now learn the game from the highly skilled player in Boettger, while Handy has the chance to put his skills as a coordinator to the test.

“I thought it was pretty humble of him,” says Stewart. “He took one for the team and humbly took the role that was going to serve the team best.”

Handy credits much of his success as a head coach to his wife, Jannie.

While continuing to grow and expand their ministry is important to them, the two also enjoy investing in real estate and spending time with extended family.
 
When not coaching hockey, Handy participates in activities such as boating, water skiing and riding snowmobiles.

Most importantly, Handy knows the real reason behind all of his exciting experiences as head coach.
“You can see it’s the Lord’s hand on the whole thing,” said Handy.

“We’re finding some world class hockey players that are just so dedicated to playing this game. It really makes you feel good about what you are doing.”

What Liberty hockey fans see around them as they enter the LaHaye Ice Center started as merely a vision.

Twelve years later, that vision continues to grow because of one man’s passion for the game and his love for the Lord.

Contact Eric Brown at eqbrown@liberty.edu.

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