D1 hockey’s Jacob Kalandyk’s path to becoming Liberty’s leading scorer

For many athletes, the journey to finding their true passion and purpose in life is a winding road. For Jacob Kalandyk, his was flooded with ice and filled with unexpected challenges and triumphant moments.

Kalandyk now embarks on his third season as a Liberty University men’s D1 hockey player and serves as a testament to his triumphs on the ice and his unwavering work ethic in his sport, studies and faith. He is currently leading his team in points for the second consecutive season after coming off a massive outing against Syracuse, notching a hat trick in game one and a game-winning goal in game two.

Yet, there is a story lying deep beneath the ice with Kalandyk’s evolution as a hockey player, one that unveils the transformative journey that shaped him into the athlete he is today.

Photo by Anna Wheat

The force was not only with Kalandyk against Adrian during “Star Wars” Night at the LaHaye Ice Center, but from the tender age of 5, as hockey was not just a sport for Kalandyk — it was a calling.

“Ever since I was little, (hockey has) just always been something I’ve loved doing,” Kalandyk said. “I just always wanted to pursue it from a young age. God’s just led me here. It has been awesome.”

However, Kalandyk’s journey to collegiate hockey wasn’t perfect in the recruiting process. Spending three years in juniors on different teams — including the Texas Junior Brahmas — tested his resolve and fortitude and honed his skills. Yet through it all, Kalandyk persevered, emerging stronger and more determined than ever to achieve his dreams.

“That work ethic and not giving myself an out on my dreams was huge for me,” Kalandyk said. “After my first year of juniors, I got cut from the team and just still continued to push forward.”

As any athlete knows, the game is 90% mental, and Kalandyk struggled with his identity growing up because it was based entirely on hockey.

“It is a sport; it is not who you are as a person,” Kalandyk said. “You are supposed to follow God and then be a hockey player.”

And Kalandyk was, in fact, not just a hockey player. The skill set he acquired from lacrosse, football and baseball shaped him into the dedicated player he is today.

“In baseball, I was more of a hitter, but I did a little bit of pitching and catching,”
Kalandyk said. “We were pretty good growing up and won states for like three years in a row and made the semifinals.”

Just like Kalandyk, his inviting presence, consistency and selflessness reflect the community he surrounds himself with. His family and his girlfriend, Riley Kovach, never fail to keep him going.

“They sacrificed so much for me just to get to this point, as hockey is not a cheap sport at all,” Kalandyk said. “It’s very time-consuming and very expensive, and (Kovach) has definitely been patient with me and been very supportive of my dreams and my goals in life.”

Photo by Anna Wheat

Little did he know that after his second year in junior hockey, he would be recruited to play at Liberty alongside his linemates Truett Olson and Jackson Vercellono, who push him to be a better hockey player every day.

“It’s easy to point out my points and everything, but playing with those two guys every day has been awesome because they’re just really consistent in their attitude and just their play style,” Kalandyk said.

To make things exciting, he and his teammate goaltender Nick Bernstein have an ongoing bet to keep him consistent and challenged in practice.

“I had to score three goals on him in practice, or I owe him five bucks,” Kalandyk joked. “It’s been going back and forth.”

This year, the team truly bonded on a winter break trip to Helsinki, Finland, where they served with trip coordinator David Pike.

“We did a couple of mentoring things with their U-20 and U-18 team. We played the U-18 team and got to have dinner with them and just hang out with them, played a couple of videos for them,” Kalandyk said. “Ultimately we just talked and showed them that God’s there and that he’s ready to accept them with open arms.”

The experience led Kalandyk to do the same and accept God with open arms in a baptism — on his birthday — in Finland.

“Watching (David Pike) pick up his cross and work for God every day I think is really inspiring to me, to see the work he’s doing over there, just trying to help out all the younger kids over there and all the hockey guys there,” Kalandyk said. “It was just really cool to see.”

The 24-year-old’s contributions to Liberty’s hockey program have been nothing short of stellar.

Photo by Anna Wheat

Representing the USA at the World Cup of Hockey in 2023, held in Carta, Harghita and Romania, Kalandyk etched his name in the halls of hockey history by helping bring home the gold alongside a few familiar faces including Matt Bartel, Jason Foltz, Lazarus Kaebel and Colin Baird.

Beyond his athletic achievements, Kalandyk’s commitment to his studies and his faith shines brightly, balancing the demands of a rigorous academic curriculum in finance and
accounting with the rigors of competitive hockey. Getting up for work at 7:20 a.m. to practice at the rink until 5:00 p.m. to come home for dinner and homework only to do it again the next day — there is no doubt that he exemplifies the essence of an online student athlete.

“Being consistent and giving enough time for school, at least a couple of hours a day to just stay on top of homework is huge,” Kalandyk said. “That’s really helped me out.”

Looking toward the future,  Kalandyk is ready for the next chapter of his life off the ice and in the air with an internship at Lockheed Martin on the horizon, as well as potential opportunities in professional hockey. He embraces the journey ahead with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose.

“I think it’s time to just try something new,” Kalandyk said. “It’s been a long go of doing hockey.”

Coleman is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion

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