Flames form bonds through tough workouts, fun fellowship
September 4, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
A spirit of unity is a key component of a winning program so Liberty University's ACHA Division I men's hockey team has gone to great lengths to establish camaraderie and harmony in the preseason, both on and off the ice.
Last Friday, all 24 players bleached their hair blond, a preseason tradition that dates back to before the playing days of assistant coach Jake Hannon, who sported the look before his senior year in 2011.
"It's a little bit humiliating, especially when you walk around campus, but it's great because everyone does it together so it creates a lot of unity on the team," said Hannon, whose younger brother Luke Hannon, a freshman forward, accepted the initiation rite this season. "Everyone's willing to take that step. Everywhere we go, we look for the blond and we know we're one team with one heart."
The hair-styling session took place at the end of an intense week of training camp, which included two-a-day practices at the LaHaye Ice Center at 5 a.m. and 4 p.m. The Flames also ran sprints at the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre and on the lower intramural fields under the direction of strength and conditioning coach Joe Orlandi.
"We've been practicing day-in and day-out for the last couple of weeks now," said Liberty senior forward and alternate captain Lindsay LeBlanc. "We've been spending a lot of time together off the ice, just getting to know each other because with nine new guys, you have to come together pretty quickly as a team and bond. We've been focusing on that and we're just excited to get going here (on Friday)."
Liberty opens its season Friday night against the Potomac Patriots Junior "A" team, starting at 7 p.m. in the LaHaye Ice Center. Looking to kick off its season in a way that attracts even more fans in a family-friendly atmosphere, Liberty will hold the first of several tailgate parties in the LaHaye parking lot from 4-6:30 p.m.
The festivities will feature music and games such as corn hole and street hockey, inflatables, including a 75-foot obstacle course for fans to race one another, and a bounce house and 35-foot slide for the younger crowd. Those with tickets in hand to the game can enjoy free food and be eligible for door prizes.
Sophomore forward Grant Garvin, a transfer from Holy Cross, has enjoyed forming fast friendships with the Flames, who have developed chemistry on the ice in the process.
"Getting to know the guys has been fun," Garvin said. "I'd say we're all friends already. We have a pretty tight bond. We had a team cookout last weekend at one of the guys' houses and all of the guys hang out together. A lot of guys are in the same classes, so we're with each other every day, pretty much all of the time."
On Thursday, the Flames enjoyed a refreshing retreat to The Master's Inn, an outdoors camp run by Liberty alumni near Altavista, Va. The Flames spent the afternoon swimming and boating in the lake and playing field games before ending the day with a cookout and bonfire.
There is, however, no tie that binds teammates together more than their common faith. Liberty 15th-year Head Coach Kirk Handy and his staff of Jeff Boettger, Jake Hannon, and Dalton Stoltz have focused their recruiting efforts on bringing men of moral integrity into the program. Once they arrive on campus, the coaches place a major emphasis on developing the spiritual character of the Flames, training them to maintain their Christian testimony in the heat of battle.
"One of the big things that we looked at in the offseason was ‘How can we be better in our whole person development with our players?'" Handy said. "‘How can we be more intentional with them in the classroom, more intentional in their social life, more intentional with them athletically each time we're out here?' With our spiritual component, we want to be making sure they're getting fed properly to where there's a growth aspect."
Garvin was immediately impressed by the Christian environment in Liberty's training camp.
"That's one of the best parts of playing herethe spiritual aspect," Garvin said. "Obviously, we play hockey and have that in common, but (we also) have that bond as Christians. Every practice we start out with a prayer and at the end of practice, we have another prayer. You just don't see that anywhere."