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    January 12, 2023 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    As it prepares to take on a brutal spring schedule with five of its six series being against opponents ranked in the top seven, Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team remained at No. 3 in this week’s ACHA DI national rankings going into Friday night’s 2023 opener at Ohio University.

    “It will be a great test, a battle between two great teams that are going to work hard,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “The whole semester will be a test. We have a great schedule and we’re very blessed to have that and excited to see how our guys respond to it.”

    The semester also features series against No. 5 UNLV next weekend at home, capped by the season’s third and final Midnight Mayhem matchup on Jan. 21, and a final regular-season road trip at No. 17 Stony Brook, before spending the entire month of February at the LaHaye Ice Center with clashes against No. 2 Adrian (Feb. 3-4), No. 7 Ohio (Star Wars Weekend on Feb. 17-18), and No. 1 Minot State (Feb. 24-25). That extended home stretch should prepare Liberty well for the March 16-21 ACHA National Championships in Marlborough, Mass.

    “This will be one of the toughest semesters of games that I’ve had in my time here,” Flames senior forward and alternate captain Matt Bartel said. “We’re playing really good teams every weekend leading up to nationals. It will be a really good test for the team and I think we’ll be able to take a lot from each game and build momentum for nationals and help us to prepare and be at our best when we get there.”

    Bartel, one of six seniors on a team that added freshman defenseman Reid Bogenholm and goalie Jackson Glassford for the spring semester, was pleased with the way the team practiced this week coming off a month-long Christmas vacation.

    “It was a good break from hockey to rest a little bit, and the break honestly made me miss it,” he said. “It’s been so fun to be back and be playing again, to be with the guys in the room and out on the ice. I was definitely really happy with how the first few practices have gone. It doesn’t even seem like there was a break. We just kind of picked up right where we left off. Practices have been good with good intensity and high compete levels. It’s been nice to get some guys back because we were pretty banged up there going into the break. Everyone seems to be flying out there, so it’s pretty exciting.”

    “It’s been a good week of practice,” Handy said. “They’ve been competing hard in practice, and I really like what our guys are doing, just getting back to what made us successful in the fall and making sure that we’re back up to speed in all of our systems and in the way that we want to play.”

    Scouting Preview Games 20-21: No. 3 Liberty (13-6) at No. 7 Ohio (17-4-1), Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at Bird Arena in Athens, Ohio. Both games will be streamed live on Ohio Hockey’s Stretch Internet channel.

    All-time series: Liberty leads 17-16 after winning 14 of the past 16 matchups following a 3-14 start against the Bobcats.

    Liberty Scouting Report: After relying on a handful of Division II call-ups in the fall, the Flames are nearly back to full strength and have returned to most of their original forward line combinations and defensive pairings. They feature balanced scoring sparked by junior forwards Jason Foltz and Jacob Kalandyk, who are tied for the team points lead with both having scored 13 goals and distributed 11 assists. Senior forwards Josh Fricks (6G, 18A) and Jackson Vercellono (9G, 14A) rank third and fourth, respectively, with both recording two game-winners, one fewer than junior forward Truett Olson’s three.

    Between the pipes, Assistant Coach Dan Berthiaume now has four goalies to call upon with the addition of Glassford. He and fellow freshman Scott Bird could challenge for playing time behind seniors Hunter Virostek (9-4, 2.76 goals-against average, 92.3 save percentage) and Cédric Le Sieur (3-1, 1.85 GAA, 93.7 SP, 1 shutout).

    Ohio Scouting Report: The Bobcats staged the upset of the ACHA DI National Championships last season, knocking off No. 2 Minot State in the opening round as the No. 15 seed before falling to No. 3-seeded Adrian in the second round. They had dropped 10 of their final 11 games in the regular season, including being swept by the Flames, 4-1 and 4-3 in a shootout, on Feb. 11-12 in Athens, Ohio. This season, they have gotten off to a strong start with two of their four losses against Adrian and Maryville, teams the Flames also split series against.

    Ohio’s offense is fueled by forward Luc Reeve, the ACHA’s leading scorer with 24 goals and 25 assists. He has netted eight goals on the power play, three game-winners, and two shorthanded scores. Reeve is complemented by fellow forward Laker Aldridge (18G, 20A), who ranks 11th in the league, and defenseman Sam Turner (3G, 21A).

    In net, the Bobcats have primarily platooned Justin Damon (8-2-1, 2.09 GAA, 90.3 SP, 1 SO) and Max Karlenzig (6-2, 1.63 GAA, 91.7 SP, 2 SO), with stellar backup keeping from Garrett Alderman (3-0, 0.33 GAA, 97.6 SP, 2 SO).

    Coaches: Handy is in his 23rd season at the helm for Liberty, having guided his alma mater to six consecutive ACHA DI National Championship tournaments and posted a career record of 511-205-29. Lionel Mauron, a former ECHL player originally from Switzerland, is in his second season as head coach for the Bobcats and has posted a 33-23-4 record.

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