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    September 22, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Currently ranked second among active coaches at the ACHA Division I level, Liberty University men’s hockey Head Coach Kirk Handy doesn’t put much stock in the possibility of surpassing the 500-win mark when the Flames face West Virginia University on Friday night at the LaHaye Ice Center.

    “That’s something I don’t even think about, to be honest with you,” he said after the Flames opened their season with a 9-3 victory over ACHA Division II North Carolina State last Friday. “I’m more just focused on growing our team and getting better and trying to be we best we can to represent the school.”

    Head Coach Kirk Handy exhorts his players and interacts with officials from behind the bench during a game last season. (Photo by Chase Gyles)

    Handy approaches the single matchup with the Mountaineers as an opportunity to give his team a final tune-up for what lies ahead, potentially its toughest season schedule in his 23 seasons at the helm.

    “I’m looking forward to it,” he said of the WVU contest, not the monumental milestone in his coaching career. “It’s our first ACHA Division I game (of the season) and we want to make sure that we’re ready to go.”

    Handy trails only former ESCHL rival Rhode Island’s Joe Augustine (675 wins in 33 seasons) among active coaches after Iowa State Head Coach Al Murdoch (who the ACHA Division I National Championship trophy is named for) retired in 2013 with 1,070 victories in 43 seasons.

    “Kirk is a strong believer in the vision and mission of Liberty University, and building a successful program both on and off the ice has been the focus, especially finding and bringing in young men who understand that culture,” Flames Associate Head Coach Jeff Boettger said. “You don’t go into a career wanting to win 500 games. You want to impact lives on multiple levels, and that starts spiritually, as well as on the athletic side and academically. It is a holistic approach, wanting to grow these young men as leaders and as athletes. At the same time, 500 wins is a huge milestone for a coach. It will be an awesome accomplishment and an exciting marker for this team to help him achieve.”

    Scouting Preview for Game 2:  West Virginia (1-1) at No. 5 Liberty (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m., in the LaHaye Ice Center. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+.

    All-time series: The Flames are 16-0 against the Mountaineers, sweeping the teams’ four meetings in the 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15 seasons and single series in February 2018 (by 9-1 and 10-1 scores) and December 2021, winning 9-0 and 10-0.

    Junior forwards Kam Ottenbreit and Jacob Kalandyk skate past a fallen Mountaineer last December.

    Liberty Scouting Report:  When the Flames swept the series against WVU on Feb. 16-17, 2018, they set the program record for the longest winning streak at 17 games, which they would extend to 19 before losing to Central Oklahoma in the first round at nationals. In last season’s first meeting with the Mountaineers, the first of three “Midnight Mayhem” matchups, junior forward Jacob Kalandyk recorded the first hat trick of his career.

    Kalandyk started this season with a hot hand, netting a goal and two assists last Friday night against NC State. He was complemented by Kam Ottenbreit (2G, 2A), along with fellow junior forward Brett Gammer, senior forward Josh Fricks, sophomore forwards Jackson Vercellono and Truett Olson, sophomore defenseman Nate Cox, and freshman defenseman Laz Kaebel, who each put one goal past the Icepack’s defense.

    The Flames will return junior forwards Jason Foltz, last season’s leading scorer with 14 goals and 27 assists, and Kris Bladen, who missed last week’s opener due to illness.

    Senior head captain Colin Baird (4G, 20A in 2021-22) anchors the defense, flanked by senior Tom Nagle, sophomores Cox, Colten Kovich, and Luke Heimann, and freshmen Kaebel and Grant Morton.

    Between the pipes, Liberty split playing time in last Friday’s season opener against NC State between seniors Cédric Le Sieur and Hunter Virostek and freshman Scott Bird, who shut out the Icepack over the final 20 minutes.

    West Virginia Scouting Report: The Mountaineers split their season-opening series at Alabama last weekend, winning Friday’s first game, 4-2, before being doubled up in Saturday’s rematch 8-4. They got two goals and one assist from forwards Kris Cecere and Camille Marcox with supplemental scoring from Brendan Boldac (1G, 1A), Kadan Knorr (1G, 1A), Clement Espnasse (2A), Joseph Henry (2A), and Jonathan Stouffer (1G).

    Michael Nickolau only needed to make 14 saves to win the opener before Will Simpson was pummeled with 55 shots in the rematch and took the loss despite making 47 saves.

    Coaches: Handy, who has guided the Flames to six consecutive ACHA DI National Championship showings, is in his 23rd season as head coach and sports a career record of 499-199-30. Shane Buckley is in his fourth season at the helm of the Mountaineers, compiling a record of 11-23-1 the past two seasons.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

    Junior forward Kris Bladen will return to action for his first game of the 2022-23 season on Friday.