Flames eager to end skid, upset seventh-ranked Seawolves
November 4, 2015 | Lynchburg, Va.
With 2013-14 ACHA Division I national championship semifinalist and 2014-15 runner-up Stony Brook coming to town for two games Friday and Saturday at the LaHaye Ice Center, Liberty University's ACHA DI men's hockey team realizes it must raise the level of its play everywhere on the ice to end its four-game home losing skid.
"In a way, it's a good opportunity for us to learn and get better," Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. "That's the encouraging thing and I feel this weekend's going to be a great weekend for us."
Liberty dropped three more spots to No. 15 in this week's ACHA DI computer rankings, but sophomore defenseman and head captain Ben Hughes believes the Flames are on the verge of turning things around.
"We've gotten better every game so far," Hughes said, noting Liberty was tied with Ohio to start the third period of its rematch with the Bobcats. "We've lost our four games at home, but if we can build off of Saturday's game, when we played really well, I think we'll be OK."
During practices this week, the Flames' coaching staff has switched up the offensive and defensive systems in an effort to give the defensive corps and goalkeepers more rest and jumpstart production on the forward lines.
"We're going to play more controlled and have more structure in our defensive zone," Hughes said. "We're not going to be running around all over the place. If we can limit the shots, continue to block shots and help out our goalies, who have been playing really well, that will definitely help us."
He expects to be able to provide more offensive support from the back line as well.
"Our offense has gotten out to a bit of a slow start for the year, but we've made a couple adjustments on the lines and changed up our strategy in the defensive zone a little bit," Hughes said. "The system that were running now will give us a better chance to play in the offensive zone."
Senior forward and alternate captain Bram Erickson said the key to a successful offense starts on the defensive end with a fast-paced transition game.
"We've got to play hard in the D zone and put the puck in the net when we have the chance," Erickson said. "Everybody just needs to do a better job of picking up our guys and then we'll get the puck out quicker and get on offense quicker."
Scouting preview, Games 10-11: No. 7 Stony Brook (11-1) vs. No. 15 Liberty (3-5-1), Friday and Saturday (7 p.m.) at the LaHaye Ice Center. Both games will be webcast live by the Liberty Flames Sports Network.
Liberty scouting report: Flames forward Robert Ward showcased his playmaking ability and moved into Liberty's scoring lead last weekend and now has nine points through nine games — one goal and eight assists. Junior center Grant Garvin, meanwhile, is now in a three-way tie for second in scoring with eight points — netting a team-high seven goals — with freshman defenseman Zane Schartz (2G, 6A) and senior forward and alternate captain Danny Logan (1G, 7A).
While all three starters in net have notched wins this season, they have each given up their share of goals. Junior Matt Pinel (1-2) has posted the best stats to date with a 3.32 goals-against average and 91.5 save percentage, but none of the three have secured the role of Friday night starter. Sophomore Josh Halpenny (1-2, 3.71 GAA, 89.4 SP) and graduate Cary Byron (1-1, 5.78 GAA, 87.3 SP) have often been pummeled with shots or left hanging by defensive breakdowns.
In order for the Flames to contain the high-powered Seawolves' attack, their defensive corps will need to provide better protection and stronger support for their net-minders, with leaders like Hughes, graduate Peter Shantz, junior Chase Harris, and senior alternate captain Steven Bellew stepping up their games.
Stony Brook scouting report: The Seawolves, who were one of the highest scoring teams in ACHA Division I last year with 197 goals (three more than the Flames), have gotten off to a prolific start on offense again this season. Stony Brook has nine players with at least 10 points, including two with 20 or more — J.T. Hall (7G, 14A) and Andrew Cetola (5G, 15A). Its third-leading scorer, Tyler Underhill (12G, 4A), leads the way with three game-winning scores while fourth-leading scorer Frank Coscia (8G, 4A) has netted half of his goals on the power play.
Between the pipes, the Seawolves have platooned two goalies with nearly identical success — Todd Scarola (1.50 GAA, two shutouts, 94.4 SP) and Derek Willms (2.06 GAA, 92.6 SP) — who both boast 5-0 records in a total of 600 minutes (out of 720) played.
All-time series: Liberty still maintains a 19-6-3 lead over Stony Brook after splitting the last four two-game series, two at LaHaye and two on Long Island, N.Y.
Coaches: Kirk Handy is in his 16th season as Liberty's head coach with an overall record of 336-145-20. Chris Garofalo, in his sixth season as head coach of the Seawolves, is 128-51-4 overall. That includes a 28-5-3 mark in 2014-15, when he guided the team to the ACHA DI semifinals, and a 33-6 mark last year, when Stony Brook upset defending ACHA DI national champion Arizona State to reach the championship game.