DIII men’s hockey brimming with anticipation over 2022-23 season in CHF
In the 2021-22 season, Liberty University’s Division III men’s hockey team played a split schedule between ACHA and College Hockey Federation (CHF) competition. In 2022-23, the Flames are planning to shift to an entirely CHF schedule, while remaining a member of the ACCHL.
“We were in the unique spot where we could play in two different governing bodies this past year,” Liberty third-year Division III Head Coach Josh Graham said. “That kind of gave us an opportunity to look at where the future is best for us. After finishing the year in CHF, that’s where we are going to be leaning toward next year. We don’t have any ACHA games scheduled.”
The Flames are coming off a rollercoaster ride of a 15-10-1 season, which included two three-game losing streaks in the fall semester and a nine-game winning streak in the spring. That was followed by a four-game season-ending losing skid — a 3-1 loss to Coastal Carolina in the Feb. 28 ACCHL Championship Final rematch at the LaHaye Ice Center and an 0-3 finish in the CHF National Championships in West Chester, Pa.
“We struggled a little bit in the first semester, but … we got to play in a second consecutive (ACCHL) Conference Championship and getting our first autobid to (CHF) Nationals was super exciting,” Graham said.
“It didn’t go the way that we planned it to go, but it was still exciting that we made that step to get there,” rising sophomore center Ethan Dunn added.
In contrast to what Graham has become accustomed to in his first two seasons at the helm, the Flames will return the majority of their roster this fall. That should give them a solid foundation to build upon, using this past semester’s run as a springboard to success.
“In my two short years of coaching the team, the roster has undergone tremendous overhauls,” Graham said. “Next year, we’ll have 20 returning players and only three seniors, so we’re a very young team. The experience we got this year is going to help us. It’s going to make us a deeper team, but if we can get some upgrades this season, too (with incoming recruits), that’s going to push us over and make us a very competitive team and probably push us into the top 10 in the CHF, which would be pretty exciting.”
Dunn believes that the team, anchored by a stellar nine-man class of rising sophomores, has plenty of potential to make a much deeper run at CHF nationals next spring.
“The core guys are still going to be on the team, so it will be interesting to see how all the chemistry develops even more and how we grow as a team throughout next season,” he said.
“Over the last two years we’ve seen such a tremendous growth in our team’s talent,” Graham added. “This was one of the closer teams I’ve ever coached, and they really enjoyed being around each other. It’s a long season, so you’ve got to enjoy the group that you’re with. It helps you get through the tough times and when you have high moments, it’s just super memorable.”
Video edited by Kylee Lilge/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant