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    January 3, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    During the fall semester, Liberty University’s ACHA Division II men’s hockey team dealt five opponents their first losses, and the Flames (15-2) will have an opportunity to continue that trend when they meet undefeated North Carolina State (18-0) in a home-and-home series Friday night in Raleigh, N.C., and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the LaHaye Ice Center.

    “To have as many freshmen as we do and to still have the success that we’ve had so far, it’s been really encouraging,” fifth-year Head Coach Ben Hughes said. “We’ve played all the best teams so far and we’ve handled ourselves really well.”

    Liberty, which traded places with the Icepack to take over the No. 1 spot in the latest Southeast Region rankings, swept a season-opening series at Rowan (N.J.) in September by 3-2 and 4-3 scores. The Flames then won two out of three games from reigning ACHA DII national champion University of Mary — now ranked No. 1 in the West Region and the nation — in mid-October at the LaHaye Ice Center. They then posted single game victories over previously unbeaten Florida Gulf Coast and UMass-Amherst in the first two rounds of the Liberty Fall Tournament in late October before sweeping visiting Miami (Ohio) University in early November.

    Last season, Liberty went 2-1-1 against NC State, which had won the two previous meetings — in the 2019 Southeast Region final and in a home showcase the following fall, Liberty’s first loss of a 30-3-1 season.

    “They’re well coached and they play hard, compete every shift, and are a fast team,” Hughes said. “It’s becoming a bit of a rivalry that’s good for both programs. We knew these games were coming up to start the New Year, and we’re excited for them. The guys are ready to go.”

    The Flames returned to Lynchburg and held their first practice on Sunday in preparation for Friday’s 7:45 p.m. series opener at the Wake Competition Center. Saturday’s rematch is the first of five remaining home games for Liberty, which welcomes Penn State and Delaware for two-game series Jan. 14-15 and Jan. 28-29, respectively.

    The winner of the series will claim the Wagon Wheel Trophy, a new tradition started this season to fuel the regional rivalry between the Flames and Icepack.


    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer