No. 5 Flames eager to embark on journey through toughest DI men’s schedule in program history
Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team debuted at No. 5 in the preseason rankings and will have opportunities to test its mettle against one of its strongest schedules to date this season with 20 of its 30 games after this Friday night’s opener against North Carolina State against teams ranked in the top seven.
“I believe this is the best schedule that we’ve ever had, so we’ll be playing all of the top teams in the country night-in and night-out,” Flames Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “Our plan is that we’ll see a lot more consistency in our group as we go. Enthusiasm’s been great, the energy’s been great, so we’re looking to continue to build on that.”
“We’re always looking to get better every day and the higher we are ranked before nationals, the better it will be for us,” sophomore forward Jacob Kalandyk added.
Senior defenseman and head captain Colin Baird said Liberty is prepared for a second straight season playing an independent schedule.
“We know what to expect this year going forward,” he said. “We’re going to prepare differently, we’re going to play harder, play more physical, play faster. It’s a long journey, but we’re really excited. We know what it takes now. Our compete’s going to be really high. We have higher expectations for ourselves and it should be a lot of fun.”
Returning 19 players from last season’s squad that advanced to the quarterfinals of the ACHA DI National Championships in St. Louis has Handy optimistic about a potential second “Frozen Four” appearance in three years at the March 16-21 national tournament in the New England Sports Center near Boston.
“The last two years, we’ve turned over 10-plus guys who graduated, so to only have half that, five this year, is going to be great,” he said. “We’re really excited. The potential’s there, the talent’s there. It’s a matter of how quickly we come together as a group. I think we’ve done a great job of building team culture and doing stuff together as a team really early on this season. I believe that the strength of our team will be from the guys who are there and from the way that we battle.”
“We have tons of experience in that locker room,” junior forward Jason Foltz added. “We know what we need to do, we’ve just got to apply it. We just need to focus on the little things, focus on our starts. We need to be ready to go as soon as the puck drops. We need to be focused, we need to be dialed in every single game. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, whether it’s West Virginia or UNLV, we need to treat them the same.”
A total of 70 men’s teams will compete at the ACHA DI level this season, including newcomers College of New Jersey, University of Oregon, Purdue University Northwest, and San Diego State University. Reigning national champion Lindenwood University moved to the NCAA DI ranks while Iowa State University is on a school suspension for the 2022-23 season. University of Central Oklahoma, national champion in 2015 and 2017 and runner-up to Lindenwood in 2022, is ranked No. 1 followed by No. 2 University of Nevada-Las Vegas, which eliminated Liberty to advance to its first “Frozen Four,” No. 3 Adrian College, national champion in 2018 and 2021, and No. 4 Minot State University, national champion in 2013 and 2019 and runner-up in 2021, when it defeated the Flames to reach the final.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video edited by Kylee Lilge/Club Sports Video & Media Coordinator