ACHA DI Flames host Seawolves in top-10 showdown with former ESCHL foe
Just two years removed from battling with Stony Brook for ESCHL supremacy year-in and year-out over the previous four seasons, Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team will entertain the defending ESCHL champion Seawolves this Friday and Saturday at the LaHaye Ice Center (LIC).
The Flames ended the Seawolves’ four-year run as ESCHL champions by winning their first of three tournament titles in four years in 2017 and captured three consecutive regular-season championships from 2018-20 — clinching autobids to the ACHA DI National Championships — before returning to independent status in 2021.
Liberty, which slipped two spots to No. 7 in this week’s national rankings after splitting last weekend’s home series against unranked Robert Morris (Pa.) University, won three of four matchups with the Seawolves last season, all but the spring semester opener on Jan. 22 at The Rinx in Hauppauge, N.Y. That was the last time the Flames were shut out, by a 5-0 count, for the first time since dropping the rematch of a historic first-game win over NCAA Division I Long Island (N.Y.) on Jan. 23, 2021, 4-0 at the LIC.
“It’s always a good matchup when they come here,” Liberty junior forward Jason Foltz said. “What it comes down to is we need to put the puck in the net. We can’t score one goal and expect to win (as in last Friday’s 4-1 loss to RMU). We can’t have (senior goalie) Hunter (Virostek) put us on his back every single game. It’s going to come down to us finishing our chances. Good teams score goals off of other teams’ mistakes and that’s what it’s going to come down to. Who is going to work the hardest?”
Friday’s game will be a “Be The Match” registration and awareness night, with fans encouraged to sign up to become blood marrow donors. Liberty’s synchronized skating team will perform its “Warrior” routine for the fans on hand during an intermission of Saturday’s rematch.
Scouting Preview for Games 11-12: No. 10 Stony Brook (N.Y.) University (7-1) at No. 7 Liberty (6-4), Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the LaHaye Ice Center. Both games will be streamed live on ESPN+.
All-Time Series: Liberty leads 34-18-3.
Liberty Scouting Report: The Flames are about even with Stony Brook on the penalty kill this season, having extinguished 32 out of 39 chances (82 percent) compared to 34 out of 40 for the Seawolves (85 percent). But when it comes to the power play, Liberty is executing at better than twice the efficiency, capitalizing on 10 of 26 opportunities (38 percent) compared to just 5 of 32 chances converted on Stony Brook’s man advantages (16 percent).
Foltz, the Flames’ top scorer last season, is in a three-way tie atop the team’s current leaders with 8 goals and 4 assists through 10 games. Fellow junior forward Jacob Kalandyk (6G, 6A) and senior forward Jackson Vercellono (4G, 8A) share the lead while senior forward Josh Fricks (3G, 8A) has a team-high two game-winners and freshman defenseman Laz Kaebel (2G, 7A) ranks fifth. Between the pipes, Virostek (5-4, 2.86 goals-against average, 91.8 save percentage) has posted Liberty’s only shutout of the season while fellow senior goalie Cedric Le Sieur (1-0, 2.40 GAA, 88.9 SP) recorded his first win of the season in Saturday’s rematch against Robert Morris.
Stony Brook Scouting Report: The Seawolves lost their first game of the season this past Saturday at The Rinx, falling to ESCHL rival Rhode Island, 2-1. Their previous wins included sweeps of Davenport and ESCHL rivals Syracuse and New York University and a 4-3 shootout victory over NCAA Division III Manhattanville, their first-ever triumph over an NCAA program.
Greg Barnych (8G, 8A) is Stony Brook’s leading scorer, followed closely by Brandon Avezov (6G, 8A) while fellow forward Matt Minerva (3G, 8A) is tied with Barnych with two game-winners in just four games played.
In goal, the Seawolves feature one of the ACHA’s best in Russia-born net-minder Matvei Kazakov (5-0, 2.00 GAA, 91.7 SP), who has ample backup from Scott Barnikow (1-0, 2.00 GAA, 94.9 SP) and Thomas Sullivan (1-1, 3.50 GAA, 89.1 SP).
Coaches: Handy is in his 23rd season at the helm for the Flames, having guided them to six consecutive ACHA DI National Championship tournaments and posted a career record of 504-203-29. Chris Garafolo is in his 26th season as general manager of the Seawolves and 13th season as their head coach, having led them to a record of 254-96-25 and bids to 12 of the past 13 ACHA DI National Championships.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer