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    September 23, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    In the home locker room after Friday night’s 12-1 triumph over West Virginia, Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team celebrated Head Coach Kirk Handy’s 500th career win like they had just captured the Stanley Cup, only showering him with water rather than champagne.

    Like the liquid rolling off his sport coat, Handy deflected the praise for his remarkably consistent career achievement to his fellow coaches and players, and to God.

    “I’m very blessed with the coaching staff we’ve got right now with (Associate Head Coach) Jeff (Boettger) and (Assistant Coaches) Jonathan (Chung) and Bert (Dan Berthiaume), with guys I’ve coached over the years, hundreds maybe a thousand players who have played, just the impact they have had,” he said, noting former players Scott Morangell, Zane Schartz, John Schubert, Mike Morrison, Ben Hughes, Christian Garland, and Chaydan Lauber congratulated him on the milestone. “The mission’s always bigger than winning games. It’s turning out players who want to be Champions for Christ on and off the ice, and that’s a big part of it for me. That motivates me more than wins and losses, to be honest with you, is getting the opportunity to work with these guys and to see them grow and to leave here and be world-changers.”

    Handy is surrounded by happy players, adopted into a family culture that produces Champions for Christ.

    A College For A Weekend (CFAW) crowd helped Liberty open its season with not only its second lopsided victory, but back-to-back sellouts for the first time since the LaHaye Ice Center was renovated in 2015.

    The Flames didn’t waste any time in getting on the scoreboard as Jason Foltz, Liberty’s leading scorer last season who sat out the first game for disciplinary reasons, picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and skated across the blue line and into the right circle, where he fired a wrist shot into the top-left corner of the cage for a 1-0 lead just 1:07 after the opening faceoff.

    Then, in the final seven seconds of the Flames’ 4-on-3 power play, junior forward DJ Schwenke sent a cross-crease pass to freshman forward Colten Kovich and cleaned up his shot in the right crease for a quick 2-0 advantage with 16:41 to play in the period.

    The Mountaineers struck back to cut the deficit to 2-1 with 16:01 left when Jake Moleski snuck a rebound past Flames starting goalie Hunter Virostek off assists from defensemen Leonard Haban and Brendan Bolduc.

    Senior forward Brett Gammer springs the puck loose in front of the Mountaineers’ cage before DJ Schewenke swooped in to score the Flames’ second goal.

    But Liberty tacked on three more goals in the next nine minutes, the first with 13:36 to go by junior forward Kris Bladen, who was also playing his first game of the year. He skated onto an outlet pass from senior defenseman Tom Nagle through the slot and threaded his shot between the skate of WVU goalie Michael Nickolau and the right post.

    With the Flames back on the man advantage, Foltz connected again on a shot from the right circle, this time off a beautiful assist from senior forward Josh Fricks along the left endline at the 9:01 mark.

    “The power play looked good tonight,” Foltz said. “I scored on that back-door pass from Josh that we’ve been working on. We ran through all of the plays today to see what worked and we were able to capitalize on them.”

    Liberty stretched the lead to 5-1 with 7:17 to go on a nice tic-tac-toe pass sequence from junior forward Jacob Kalandyk to Truett Olson who dished it back to fellow sophomore forward Jackson Vercellono in the slot for a top-shelf wrist shot.

    Foltz completed his hat trick and tacked on his team’s sixth score in the final 20 seconds of the first period with authority. After an unsuccessful wraparound attempt, he won the puck back to Fricks, who skated to the top of the right circle and spotted Foltz open deep in the left circle for a one-timed slapshot finish past backup goalie Will Simpson.

    “Foltz is a great hockey player for us, and he came ready to go tonight,” Handy said. “Right from the get-go, he scored that first one. He had great jump tonight in his skates. That line played really well for us.”

    Gammer battles a West Virginia player for the puck.

    The Flames started the second period on a 5-on-4 power play for the first five minutes following a major infraction by Camille Marcoux at the intermission, and they cashed in twice in that time, starting with a fantastic finish by Fricks after freshman defenseman Grant Morton and Bartel started the rush. Fricks took the puck and maneuvered it through the slot with dazzling stickwork before pocketing a wrist shot from deep in the left crease into the top right corner.  Then, with just under 15:00 left and Liberty on a 5-on-3 man advantage, Bartel sent a pass to a wide open Kalandyk in the slot where he fired a lightning-quick shot into the top left corner.

    Liberty padded its lead to 9-1 with 4:11 to go in the second when senior defenseman Colin Baird skated the puck behind the goal and onto the left boards where he sent an entry pass to Bladen, who redirected it across the cage to junior forward Kam Ottenbreit for an easy point-blank putaway in front.

    “We didn’t let off the gas,” said Foltz, who levied a solid check on a West Virginia player in the second period. “We kept putting the puck in the net and laying the body. You could tell when we were being physical they didn’t want to be there the rest of the game.”

    After being taken down on a breakaway, freshman forward Sam Feamster pushed the Flames into double digits in scoring at 10-1 by converting his penalty shot with a shifty fake and backhanded finish with 13:10 left in the third.

    Assistant Coach Dan Berthiaume looks on as Handy shouts instruction to a player on the ice.

    Schwenke netted his second goal of the night, lifting Liberty to an 11-1 edge just under the 11:00 mark, by pillaging the puck from a Mountaineers defenseman and punching it in from deep in the right circle. Then, with 5:03 remaining in regulation, Vercellono capitalized on his second score, redirecting Kovich’s shot from right out in front.

    The Flames (2-0) outshot the Mountaineers (1-2) by a 59-19 margin and senior goalie Cédric Le Sieur made a series of spectacular saves in the third period, when he stopped all seven of the Mountaineers’ shots on goal.

    Liberty returns to the LIC next weekend for its first two-game series of the semester against Niagara, which joined the ESCHL after they left it in 2020. Friday’s opener will start at 7 p.m. before Saturday’s rematch will be the first of three “Midnight Mayhem” matchups of the season, with the puck dropping at 11:59 p.m.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media