DII Flames to battle FGCU, UMass-Amherst, Trine this weekend in Liberty Showcase
Liberty University’s ACHA Division II men’s hockey team, fresh off a 13-0, 12-1 sweep at Stevenson (Md.) University last Friday and Saturday, will host a three-game showcase this weekend at the LaHaye Ice Center, providing plenty of excitement for prospective students in town for College For A Weekend (CFAW).
The Flames (6-1) will welcome Southeast Region rival Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in Friday’s first-round game with the puck dropping at 7:30 p.m. before entertaining UMass-Amherst on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Trine (Ind.) University for the first time on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
“We haven’t had an (ACHA DII) ranking yet, but every team is going to be a top-five team in their respective region,” Liberty Head Coach Ben Hughes said, noting that UMass-Amherst is from the Northeast Region and Trine from the Central Region. “Every game is definitely going to be a battle.”
Liberty and FGCU split four regular-season games last season before the Flames dethroned the two-time defending national champion Eagles in the final round of pool play at the ACHA DII National Championships last April in Bismarck, N.D. Hughes said both teams graduated key players from last season and have had newcomers step in and contribute right away.
“We’ve got to limit our mistakes and turnovers, especially on the defensive side of the puck,” Hughes said. “(FGCU is) a very fast and skilled team, so we have to protect the puck and evaluate our risk against reward (on offense). It will be all-hands-on-deck on the defensive end right now because we have so many guys hurt.”
Liberty defeated UMass-Amherst in the first round of its home showcase, 5-1, in October 2019, en route to a 31-3-1 season. The Flames would have been in the same pool as Trine at nationals that season, had it not been canceled by COVID-19.
The Flames, who swept Rowan by 3-2 and 4-3 counts in their season-opening series in Glassboro, N.J., Sept. 25-26 before winning two of three games against 2021 DII national champion University of Mary, Oct. 14-16 at home, are gearing up for similar challenges this weekend.
They were hardly tested by Stevenson last weekend in the Reisterstown (Md.) SportsPlex, giving Hughes the chance to rest a few players nursing injuries and start senior All-American Dakota Cyhaniuk’s backups in goal — junior Stephen Saunders, who posted a shutout as the Flames outshot the Mustangs, 77-16, on Friday, and freshman Lane Skon, who allowed one goal and made 20 saves Saturday.
“We didn’t have our regular lineup in place, so it was good to see guys step up who normally don’t get opportunities to get more playing time and touches,” Hughes said.
Sophomore forward Roman Lamoreaux and junior center Josh Wagner both netted hat tricks in both games against the Mustangs.
For all prospective Club Sports recruits on campus for CFAW, former Flames forward Blake Flanders (’21), who now works as a graduate assistant with Hughes, the Club Sports Director of Recruitment, will host a meet and greet session and moderate a panel discussion on Friday from 1-2 p.m. in the LaHaye Event Space.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer