Like their home rink, DIII men undergo offseason makeover
September 16, 2015 | Lynchburg, Va.
When Liberty University's ACHA Division III men's hockey team takes the ice for Friday night's season opener against George Mason University at the Prince William Ice Center in Dale City, Va. — right after the Flames' DI men's opener against the Potomac Patriots — it will have more freshmen newcomers than returning players for the first time in at least five years.
"We have 10 new guys coming in, all freshmen, so a lot of new faces," said Liberty assistant coach Brandon Cockburn, the former four-year captain and one of the Flames' three top scorers to graduate last season. "It'll be a completely different team, which may not be the worst thing, but we have some work to do offensively. A lot of the new guys showing up have good talent, so we're excited to see them grow and progress."
Liberty Head Coach Rett McGibbon maintained a 25-man roster, with plenty of depth at every position. Besides bolstering his lines with six new forwards, the former Flames goalkeeper has loaded his cupboard with four goalies and kept several new defensemen to complement the three returnees on the back line.
Senior captain Markus Deas and junior Caleb Weesner are two forwards the Flames will look to for offense right away along with sophomore Kade McDaniel, who played on at the DII level last season, and junior Jerrod Beresid.
Parker McIntyre returns for his senior season on defense, complemented by former back linemate Carl Harter, who played for the Flames from 2009-2013. Harter, who spent the last year completing his Sport Management internship at the University of California-Berkeley, is now a graduate student in Sport Administration. He is also a graduate assistant working with Club Sports Assistant Director Dave Semenyna primarily in game operations and promotions for Liberty's DI men's team.
"I'm really excited about this year," Harter said. "Being an older guy bringing a little more experience to the table, it's nice to have that role on the team, to help younger guys acclimate not only to hockey but to school itself. The more comfortable they all get and the quicker they're acclimated, the better for us."
He and McIntyre will strengthen the Flames' attack from the back line while the coaching staff searches for the right forward combinations.
"We're going to get goals from the first, second, and third lines and then our fourth and fifth lines are really fast and really athletic," Harter said. "So we're going to be a tough team to play against every night and we're not going to have to rely on our top three scorers or our power play every night. We're going to be a tough team to play against five-on-five as well now."
He relishes the opportunity to reciprocate the discipleship he received from McGibbon.
"Rett was my coach my freshman year and he was such a big influence on me, helping me transition to the college life, as a really good friend and mentor," Harter said. "I'm really excited to be playing for him again in my fifth and final year. It's going to be fun."
He respects the work ethic of players like Deas, who has a similar demeanor as Cockburn.
"When I played with Markus (Deas), he was never a super scorer, but he was always the one who worked the hardest," Harter said. "He didn't talk a lot. He was one of those lead-by-example guys and that's going to help because we don't have a lot of really big egos on the team this year. Everyone's hit it with the same mindset and practices have been really high-tempo and hard-working."
McGibbon and Cockburn, who often co-anchor LFSN broadcasts of Liberty's DI and DII programs, have a strong bond on the bench complemented by Jared Smith and Jon Barbour, who will again work with Liberty's goalies.
"Jon Barbour knows the ins and outs of DIII hockey and really does a great job of getting to know guys on a certain level and relating to them," Harter said. "He's a really solid coach and he knows how to get the guys going in the locker room, too, if we need it."
That will likely be the case before Friday's faceoff and in intermissions of the opener against GMU.
"Everyone's on the same page and ready to put the work in to get the season going," Harter said. "George Mason's always a tough game so to open the season with that game's going to be a really good challenge for us, to kind of throw the freshmen in the fire. We want to start out on the right foot and head in the right direction as a team."
Liberty has dropped out of the Blue Ridge Hockey League this season and, like the DI men, will compete as an Independent. The Flames will still face many of the same teams, including four showdowns with Christopher Newport University, one of the top teams in the South Region, and three against JMU, which has moved up to the DII level this season after splitting a home-and-away series with Liberty last year. Liberty's first duel with the Dukes will be its home opener in the newly renovated LaHaye Ice Center over Homecoming weekend on Oct. 23 at 2 p.m.
The Flames, who finished ranked 12 last season, will strive to be ranked in the top 10 in the final South Region poll to earn their second trip to regionals in three years and, with two wins in that tournament, their first-ever ACHA DIII national bid. The first poll will be released in late October or early November.