DII Flames take center stage for semester-ending showdown with Rider
Liberty University students looking for an action-packed finals exam study break over the weekend can visit the LaHaye Ice Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 1:30 p.m. when the Flames’ ACHA Division I men’s hockey team hosts Mid-Atlantic College Hockey (MACH) and Southeast Region rival Rider University in the only two Athletics or Club Sports contests on campus.
It could be an interesting series as both teams boast impressive records. Liberty, ranked No. 2 in the Southeast, is 13-2, with its only losses coming against reigning ACHA DII national champion University of Mary (ranked No. 1 behind only North Carolina State in the West Region), a team it also defeated twice in October at the LIC. Rider, meanwhile, is 14-1-1, but only ranked No. 12 in the region as it was shut out by Delaware, 5-0, and lost 7-6 in overtime to Stevenson (Md.) University, a team the Flames routed by 13-0 and 12-1 scores Oct. 22-23 on the Mustangs’ home ice.
Liberty’s rivalry with the Broncs has featured plenty of competitive clashes.
“We’ve had some really good battles with them over the course of the years and they can come in and spoil our parade pretty quickly if we don’t bring our best game,” Flames fifth-year Head Coach Ben Hughes said. “We want to continue off a great weekend we had in St. Louis (at the Nov. 20-22 Lindenwood Showcase).”
At that tournament, played in the Centene Community Ice Center arenas in Maryland Heights, Mo., that will host the March 14-18 ACHA DII National Championships, Liberty lost to Mary in the opener before beating Davenport and the host Lions, ranked No. 1 in the Central Region and No. 1 in the nation.
Junior goalie Stephen Saunders improved to 2-0 in the 5-0 defeat of Davenport, his second shutout of the season, before freshman Lane Skon made 40 saves against Lindenwood to close the mouths of the Lions in a 5-3 win.
This weekend’s games will be the last of the semester for any of Liberty’s five hockey teams (three men, two women) and all Club Sports teams except for men’s wrestling, which will compete in the Dec. 29-30 Citrus Classic in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“We want to make sure we can get some momentum going into the break, and try to lessen the distance between us and NC State has on us,” Hughes said, noting that the Flames will open 2022 with a home-and-home against the Icepack on Jan. 7 in Raleigh, N.C., and Jan. 8 at the LIC before hosting Penn State (ranked No. 5 in the Southeast) on Jan 14-15.
Liberty will end the regular season with a series at No. 3 Florida Gulf Coast University on Feb. 4-5 in Fort Meyers, Fla., before traveling to the MACH Tournament set for Feb. 18-20 at Ice Land Skating Center in Hamilton Township, N.J., and the Southeast Regionals in Columbus, Ohio.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer