Liberty Flames hockey team’s most SUCCESSFUL season ends due to COVID-19
The spread of coronavirus has turned life upside down for billions of people around the world. For many athletes whose seasons were cut short by the virus, that uncertainty has taken away their last year playing the sport they love in college.
The Liberty men’s DI hockey team was ranked No. 2 in the country, the highest in program history. Fresh off their Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League (ESCHL) conference championship victory, the Flames had their eyes fixed on a national title in Dallas.
But on Thursday, March 12, the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) announced the national tournament would be canceled due to health concerns with the coronavirus. This came as a major blow to everyone on the team, including Head Coach Kirk Handy.
“The difficult part was going to meet with the players and having to tell them what was going to happen and the cancellation of the season,” Handy said. “It was the toughest with the seniors … having to tell them what was going on.”
Of the 25 players on the Flames roster this season, 14 are seniors. One senior, Jordan Bochinski, reflected on the moment he first heard the announcement.
“When they (suddenly) ended the season and the national tournament … it takes you by surprise,” Bochinski said. “It definitely took two or three days to sink in. There’s no real good thing to say about it – it sucked all around. It was a really tough pill to swallow.”
This season, Bochinski spent a few weeks off the ice with an injury, something he believes taught him a lot.
“If life is all about hockey and that is all you focus on, then this would be a lot harder for you to swallow,” Bochinski said. “If you realize that hockey is a platform and that being at Liberty is more than the game … it becomes easier to see the future and what the Lord has planned,”
Despite the early ending to the season and an early goodbye to the seniors, the Flames are excited about the future of the program.
The underclassmen played a key role in the Flames success this season, with freshman goalie Cédric Le Sieur being named ESCHL tournament MVP and second team all-league and receiving rookie team honors.
“I think with the guys that are staying, the traditions and work ethic instilled in us by the guys that are leaving and the guys that we are bringing in we are just going to keep getting better,” Le Sieur said. “I think we are going to be a threat for the foreseeable future with everything that we have going on.”
Le Sieur was not the only underclassman Flame to find success this season, with freshman defenseman Colin Baird awarded ESCHL rookie of the year, first team all-league and rookie team.
The Flames had four players finish in the top 25 nationally in points this season, two of which will be returning for next year. Handy believes the future is bright with the core group of returners.
“When I look back on the year of what worked for us this season, I think it starts with the bond that we had in the locker room,” Handy said. “Great teams always start with great relationships. A quote that I like to use is that we have a plan and a process here, but we are relationship-driven more than we are process-driven.”
The Flames also set a program record with 33 wins this season and an undefeated 23-0 record at home. Franchise records were set for most points in a game by a single player (5) and most assists in a game for a player (4).
Looking back on the season, Bochinski said he owes the success of the team to the shared mentality everyone had toward winning.
“The fact that all of our guys were so tight-knit in that locker room, we all wanted to (win)for each other, and we knew that for a lot of the guys it was their last go which I think added a lot of grit and intensity,” Bochinski said.
Two key wins for the Flames came in their second-to-last series of the season where they faced off against the No. 1 team in the country, Adrian College.
The Flames dropped two games against the Bulldogs earlier in the season but answered with a sweep on their home ice.
“Those were two of the most exciting games that I ever played in, that is the only way I can describe it. It was crazy, the fans really showed up,” Le Sieur said. “Around the locker room there was a vibe that everyone was going to show up and that they were going to leave it all out there.”
With an early end to a historic season in his final year with the team, Bochinski leaves Liberty extremely grateful for his time spent on the mountain.
“I would just say thank you honestly … thank you to the fans, the students, the workers, the volunteers … obviously the coaching staff, the athletic trainers, everyone,” Bochinski said. “There are so many pieces of the puzzle that make a team work.”
Dean is a sports reporter. Follow him on Twitter.