Flames ready to strike match in ‘fire and ice’ opener against NC State
Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team will be the first to “Rock the Rink” at the LaHaye Ice Center when it opens its 2022-23 season Friday at 7 p.m. against North Carolina State.
“We always look forward to the NC State game to start the year,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “We’ve done it the last couple years and they have a good, solid program. We look forward to getting our season under way. There’s a lot of mutual respect between us and NC State and we’re really looking forward to starting the year against them. We’re absolutely looking forward to the game and the opportunity to be at our best.”
With 19 returning players on its 24-man roster, the Flames hold an experience advantage on the Icepack, which welcomed 12 newcomers to the fold this fall.
Scouting Preview for Game 1: North Carolina State (24-3-1 in 2021-22) vs. No. 5 Liberty (20-9-1 in 2021-22), Friday, 7 p.m., in the LaHaye Ice Center. It will be streamed live on ESPN+.
Liberty Scouting Report: The Flames played an intra-squad game last week, giving coaches a glimpse of how they look in live action and pinpointing areas they need to improve in.
“There were a lot of things we saw, and we love to take the good and use the times where we weren’t so good as teaching moments,” Handy said. “The biggest thing that we learned is we want to see more consistency in the way we play.”
Offensively, Liberty features a balanced attack, sparked by junior forward Jason Foltz, the team’s leading scorer in 2021-22 with 14 goals and 27 assists, as well as senior forward and alternate captain Matt Bartel (14G, including a team-high 9 on the power play and 4 game-winners, 20A), senior forward Josh Fricks (11G, 21A), and junior forward Jacob Kalandyk (14G, 13A).
Senior head captain Colin Baird (4G, 20A) anchors the defense, flanked by senior Tom Nagle, sophomores Nate Cox and Luke Heimann, and newcomers Colten Kovich, also a sophomore, and freshman Laz Kaebel. In goal, the Flames lean on third-year starter Hunter Virostek (17-8-1, 2.35 goals-against average, 92.6 save percentage, 1 shutout last season) with backup from fellow senior Cédric Le Sieur (3-1, 2.05 GAA, 93.6 SP, 2 SO) and freshman recruit Scott Bird.
NC State Scouting Report: The four-time defending ACCHL Division II tournament champion Icepack were seeded third in the Southeast Region and were upset in the first round, missing a trip to St. Louis for nationals. The IcePack features Victor Hugo as head captain and new team president, while senior forwards Garrett Auriene (37 points in 2021-22) and Matt Miller (22 assists) and fifth-year senior forward Alex Robinson will back him up as alternate captains. Three of NC State’s top players are sophomores, forward Zack Robinson (19G, 7A in 2021-22), top scoring defenseman Alex James (5G, 17A), and Isaac Tawyer, who led all goalies with a save percentage of 95.8.
Coaches: Kirk Handy, who has led the Flames to six consecutive ACHA DI National Championship showings including a second “Frozen Four” appearance in 2021, is in his 23rd season at the helm and sports a career record of 498-199-30. The Icepack is in its third season under Head Coach Tim Healy, who guided the team to DII National Championship tournament appearances in 2019 and 2021.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer