Flames to battle Crimson Hawks, Icepack in weekend openers
To strengthen team bonds in preparation for the 2021-22 season — which starts Friday at 7 p.m. against Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) and Saturday at 10 p.m. against North Carolina State at the LaHaye Ice Center — Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team endured FCA Warrior Fellowship training over a weekend retreat to Stone Ridge, Va., on Sept. 3-4.
“The retreat was awesome,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “Our guys really bonded together. We’ve got a great leadership group, with (defensemen and team captains) Colin (Baird) and (Chaydan) Lauber and eight to 10 other guys in that locker room that are leaders for us.”
“We had a pretty good team-building experience out there,” Lauber added. “It definitely built some camaraderie between the boys. We did a pretty hard workout, but then we went in the pool and played some games, so it was a lot of fun and a good weekend to hang out with the guys and get to know each other a little bit better.”
Baird said the monthlong preseason allowed the Flames’ returning players and newcomers to assimilate into a tight-knit team, and to stir up a hunger as they look to build momentum toward the ACHA National Championships, set for March 10-20 in St. Louis.
“The biggest thing for us right now is team unity,” he said. “We’re trying to get the new guys closer, getting the new guys to know each other and bringing them in with the vets and just making sure we’re ready to go for the start of the season.”
The Flames also refined their skating technique during a three-day Pro Stride clinic, so that when they return to action this weekend they will be ready to rock the rink as they skate past their opponents.
“Opening weekend will be a good opportunity to get our feet under us and measure up and get back into playing games,” Lauber said. “We need all the points we can get this year because we want to give ourselves the best chance at nationals with the best position. We know every game’s important because even if drop one or two that could be a huge impact on the final rankings at the start of the year.”
Handy said the Flames are seeking to refine their game day by day and week by week, regardless of who they play.
“We’re not so worried about our opponent,” he said. “Our focus is going to be on ourselves, on the way we plan to win and on our execution. How do we execute and be at our best? That’s going to be really important to us.”
Scouting Preview for Games 1-2: Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) at Liberty (12-5, ranked No. 4 in ACHA DI in 2020-21), Friday at 7 p.m. at the LaHaye Ice Center (LIC); North Carolina State (12-7-1 in 2020-21) at Liberty, Saturday (10 p.m.) at the LaHaye Ice Center. Both games will be streamed live by the Liberty Flames Sports Network (LFSN), with Friday’s also webcast on ESPN+ and Saturday’s carried on Liberty’s Kaltura platform. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the crowd size for both games will be limited to 1,600 fans.
All-Time Series: The Flames have won all 10 meetings with the Crimson Hawks in a series that only dates back to 2015. They swept IUP by 10-2 and 6-0 scores in September 2019. This is Liberty’s second meeting with the Wolfpack since moving up to the ACHA DI level in 2006, with the Flames winning last season’s opener 7-2.
Liberty Scouting Report: The Flames are coming off their first ACHA DI “Frozen Four” National Championship appearance since 2008, losing to Minot State in the semifinals on April 20 near St. Louis.
Liberty will rely on balanced offensive production from its 15 forwards after graduating ACHA DI Player of the Year Quinn Ryan and fellow seniors Cole Gammer and Brock Thompson. Baird, who scored 31 points and became the first defenseman in the 18-year history of the award to be named ACHA DI Rookie of the Year, will take on even more responsibility this season, complemented by Lauber.
The Flames feature three third-year goalies, giving Assistant Coach Dan Berthaiume a wealth of talent call upon in the cage. Seniors Hunter Virostek, Liberty’s predominant starter over the past two seasons, and Tyler Myers are complemented by junior Cédric Le Sieur.
IUP Scouting Report: The Crimson Hawks upset top-seeded Pittsburgh, 4-1, in the 2020 College Hockey Mid-American Tournament championship game and would have faced Drexel in the first round of the ACHA DI National Championships near Dallas, had that event not been canceled by COVID-19. Twenty out of the 26 players on IUP’s roster this season are from Pennsylvania.
North Carolina State Scouting Report: NC State, the 2020-21 ACCHL Tournament champion which qualified for the ACHA Division II National Championships in Bismarck, N.D., padded its roster with nine new players, giving the Icepack their deepest roster to date. The team returns it top eleven forwards who sparked the Icepack to wins over Florida Gulf Coast and Liberty’s Division II team. ACHA DII All-American Chris Solomon, Riley Johnson, and Victor Hugo join returning letterman Eric Todd as captains. NC State will open its 2021-22 season Friday against UNC-Chapel Hill at its new Wake Competition Center.
Coaches: Handy, the ACHA Men’s Division I Coach of the Year in 2019-20, enters his 22nd season at the helm of the Flames’ DI squad with a career record of 477-190-29. IUP is coached by Joe Honzo, who is in his third season at the helm after replacing Joe Ford during the 2019-20 season and leading the Crimson Hawks to a national tournament berth. The Icepack is in its second season under Head Coach Tim Healy, the former assistant coach under Mike Gazzillo, and guided the team to its second DII National Championship tournament in three seasons in 2020-21.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Videos by Luke Linkeremail@example.com, and Hayden Robertson/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant