No. 3 Flames to play four games in five nights in North Dakota, starting with No. 4 Minot State
Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team flew to Minneapolis, Minn., on Wednesday morning en route to North Dakota for this weekend’s series at Minot State, in a rematch of last season’s national semifinal setback, and first-ever meetings at Jamestown (N.D.) on Monday and Tuesday.
“It will be our first opportunity to go on the road this season and it’s going to be a great time together,” Head Coach Kirk Handy said Saturday night after the Flames completed a sweep of Delaware at the LaHaye Ice Center. “I’m excited for them.”
“Any time you get to play quality opponents like that, it is going to be a great litmus test to see where we’re at,” Liberty junior goalie Cédric Le Sieur added. “For us to get a whole week on the road to simulate what the national championship tournament will be like is going to be huge.”
The Flames spent Wednesday at NorthStar Christian Academy in Alexandria, Minn., headquarters for FCA Hockey where freshman forwards Jackson Vercellono, Nate Albers, and Truett Olson and defenseman Nate Cox played previously.
“We’re going to be practicing there, so it’s going to be fun,” Le Sieur said Saturday. “They’re a really good pipeline for us, and have sent us (in recent years) about five quality hockey players, who are all amazing guys.”
Liberty, which remained at No. 3 in this week’s third ACHA DI national rankings, is eagerly awaiting Friday’s and Saturday’s showdown with No. 4 Minot.
“A lot of guys from last year have had these next two games against Minot circled on their calendar for a while,” Le Sieur said. “We’re excited to get another chance to play them and I think that the speed that we picked up this year is really going to be the difference maker.”
Minot State first-year Head Coach Wyatt Waselenchuk knows what kind of physicality and intensity the Flames will bring to the ice.
“They’re going to come at you right off the bat,” he told the Minot Daily News. “They forecheck hard, they’ve got a very strong defensive core, they’ve got a fantastic goaltender, and they’ve got four lines that can put the puck in the net.”
He, too, is looking forward to the battle between two of the top teams in the ACHA this season on the Beavers’ home ice.
“I’m just really excited for a big, big top-five matchup here at the Maysa,” Waselenchuk said. “This is probably the best hockey team we’ve had here to play us in maybe 10 years. It’s been a long, long time, and we’re excited to have a program of this caliber here in Minot … to show our fans … what kind of hockey is played at the top level of ACHA Division I hockey.”
Scouting Preview for Games 7-10: No. 3 Liberty (6-0) at No. 4 Minot State (2-0), Friday at 8 p.m. (EST) and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. (EST) at Maysa Arena in Minot, N.D; No. 3 Liberty at No. 13 Jamestown (1-2-1), Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. (EST) at Wilson Arena in Jamestown, N.D. Both games at Minot State will be webcast on hockeytv.com before the series at Jamestown will be streamed live by Stretch.
All-Time Series: Minot holds an 8-2 advantage on the Flames, with Liberty’s lone wins coming in a 2014-15 regular-season-ending home sweep. This will be the first meeting between Liberty and Jamestown, which only debuted as an ACHA Division I program in 2016-17.
Liberty Scouting Report: The Flames’ special teams have gotten out to a great start this season, especially their penalty kill, which is unscored upon through six games and dozens of penalty minutes. “That is huge,” Le Sieur said after posting a 3-0 shutout of the Blue Hens in his first start of the season on Saturday. “Guys are doing their jobs, there’s no missed assignments and we’ve been great with consistency with that.”
Offensively, Liberty has featured a balanced attack with Vercellono leading the way with four goals — including a hat trick in Friday’s 10-1 opening triumph over Delaware — and seven assists in only five games. Olson and junior forward Matt Bartel have also netted hat tricks and freshman forward Jacob Kalandyk scored two of the Flames’ three goals while senior defenseman and head captain Colin Baird distributed two assists in Saturday’s Game 2 shutout.
Senior goalie Hunter Virostek (4-0, 1.25 goals-against average), has earned the majority of starts between the pipes and will likely get at least two more on this road trip with Le Sieur and senior Tyler Myers the next men up.
Minot State Scouting Report: The Beavers have been one of the premiere programs in the nation over the past decade, making nine consecutive ACHA DI National Championship quarterfinal appearances and five “Frozen Fours,” including hoisting two Murdoch Cup national championship trophies. They opened the 2021-22 season by sweeping Jamestown in a home-and-home series, winning the first game on the road, 3-2, on Connor Navrat’s second goal, off an assist from Landyn Cochrane in overtime, before shutting out the Jimmies in the rematch at Minot, 4-0. In goal, the Beavers platoon Jake Anthony and Riley Wallace, who both posted wins against Jamestown.
Jamestown Scouting Report: After yielding a 4-2 lead by allowing goals early and late in the third period, the Jimmies salvaged a series split in Saturday’s rematch at Midland (Neb.) when Jake Huculak netted the game-winner with eight seconds remaining in regulation, sealing a 5-4 victory, their first in four games. Jamestown also got goals from Jason Richter, Andrew Clark, Logan Berggren, and Phillippe Lessard as it outshot Midland 61-38, including 26-9 in the first period, and goalie Tyson Brouwer made 34 saves. The two teams will meet again for a series at Jamestown on Friday and Saturday nights.
Coaches: Handy is in his 22nd season at the helm of the Flames with a career record of 483-190-29. Waselenchuk, who was named Minot State’s only ACHA Division I Player of the Year in 2013 after leading the Beavers to their first of two national championships, is 2-0 in his first season at the helm. He served as assistant coach over the previous five seasons, including 2018-19, when Minot claimed its second national title. Dean Stork, in his second stint and fourth season overall as head coach of the Jimmies, has compiled a 63-36-8 record, including a 20-10-3 mark in their inaugural season.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer