Flames’ DIII squad fired up as it opens practices bright and early
Liberty University’s ACHA Division III men’s hockey team will have the largest and deepest roster in program history this fall, with 11 players on its 27-man roster newcomers.
“We are really excited as a coaching staff and I think it will be one of the most competitive teams we’ve ever iced as well,” second-year Head Coach Josh Graham said. “We have a really good returning corps of players complemented by some really good freshmen. Our team strength is going to be our speed.”
The Flames took to the LaHaye Ice Center for their first official practice of the fall semester bright and early Tuesday morning, from 6-7:30 a.m., as they will regularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“There is going to be an adjustment period, but once the guys get through first couple weeks and get used to working out and practicing early, it should put us in a position to compete in game situations throughout the year,” Graham said, noting that the early practice time has its benefits. “It allows them to shape their days, get their homework done, and go to class. Our message is going to be to develop good sleeping and eating habits to prepare them for the marathon that is the season.”
The Flames’ only return one assistant captain, junior center Jaime Ross, but picked up two surprise graduates who could play major roles, forward Jerrell Campbell, a four-year Division II player who is now a graduate shepherd for Liberty’s NCAA Division I Athletics programs, and goalie Clayton Pierce, who returns to the roster after sitting out last season.
“We’re looking to (Campbell) to provide good leadership on the ice and to be a guy that can lead spiritually as well,” Graham said. “Going to nationals, playing against good teams, we need guys like that because we don’t have any experience there. Clayton Pierce worked really hard in the offseason after taking a year off and is going to be a big part of our goaltending tandem this year along with (sophomore) Kyle Wesbury and (graduate) Sam Bell.”
The Flames only graduated three players from last year’s team, forwards Scott Chisholm and Adam Partridge and defenseman T.J. Moores.
“Guys that are going to provide core leadership are junior (defenseman) Jordan Chamberlain and (center) Christian Kline, and our lone senior, defenseman Mike Eisaman,” Graham said.
Offensively, Graham anticipated seven or eight players rotating into the top two forward lines this season, including Ross, Campbell, Eric Abbatte, a freshman from Buffalo, centerman Johnny Kettelle, Kenny Fogarty, William Fortugno, and Mike Williams, and Carson Desmairais, a freshman from British Columbia.
Graham said in order to help the team avoid COVID outbreaks throughout the 2021-22 season, he would like to see them stay in their own bubble as much as possible.
“Having the team be able to work out together and practice together, hopefully will be able to have the team remain COVID-free,” he said. “We want to keep the guys together and get some chemistry going and start preparing for our first games.”
The Flames will open their 22-game regular-season schedule Oct. 8-9 at home against California University of Pennsylvania. Highlights include a Nov. 19-20 series at ACCHL rival Coastal Carolina, an Oct. 15-16 series at Kennesaw (Ga.) State and Nov. 5-6 trip to Georgia Tech, a Jan. 14-15 series at the Naval Academy, and a regular-season-ending showdown with Christopher Newport, Feb. 19-20 at the LaHaye Ice Center.
The Flames faced Coastal Carolina seven times last season, finishing 4-3 with one of the losses in the ACCHL Tournament championship game played at a neutral site in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Liberty will host the ACCHL Conference Tournament from Feb. 25-27 before potentially traveling to West Chester, Pa., for the College Hockey Federation (CHF) National Championships from March 11-16.
Last season was the CHF’s second year and it pulled several teams away from the ACHA, with many of them participating in both leagues.
“There are a bunch of teams dual enrolling, playing in the ACHA and the CHF,” Graham said, including six of the eight members of the ACCHL, many of which did not field teams last season due to COVID-19. “In the ACCHL this fall, everyone is rocking and rolling again.”
DIII Flames’ 2021-22 men’s hockey roster
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