No. 5 Flames look to replicate road sweep of No. 4 UNLV on home ice this weekend
Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team slipped two spots to No. 5 in this week’s ACHA DI national rankings after being swept by now-No. 3 Ohio University last weekend in Athens, Ohio, so the Flames will be underdogs when they host No. 4 UNLV on Friday and Saturday at the LaHaye Ice Center (LIC), capped by the season’s third and final “Midnight Mayhem” matchup.
“We didn’t quite start off the new year the way we wanted versus Ohio, but we learned from it,” junior forward Nate Albers said. “They came out with a little more fire than we did, and they got the better of us. Next time we see them, we’ll be ready for them.”
Albers said the Flames have shown youthful resilience as well as emotional and spiritual maturity this season, battling through injuries and overcoming adversity along the way.
“Every weekend is a new learning experience, win or lose, so hopefully we are able to bounce back this weekend,” he said. “Hockey’s a game of bouncing back and forth and we’re excited to get going and to show them what we’ve got. I think the boys are ready. Everyone is excited and we feel energetic. We love it when we get to play UNLV because it’s great competition and it normally gets rowdy, so it will be fun. All around, I think we have a deeper team. From forward to defense, all four of our lines can go and score goals or play a certain role they need to play, and everyone will be ready to go.”
After the Flames dealt UNLV its only ACHA losses of the season by sweeping the Rebels Nov. 18-19 in Las Vegas, Albers is optimistic they can do it again on their home ice.
“We’ve got a great group of guys here, so if anyone can do it, we can,” he said. “We’ve just got a deeper team and we’re a lot closer as a squad. We’ve got a couple of guys that are a little banged up, but we’ll be ready to go with no problem. I know they’re going to come ready to play, but so are we. It’s a great test of our resiliency. These guys are ready to battle this weekend. The biggest part is everyone playing their role, everybody doing what they’re supposed to do — goal scorers scoring goals and the guys that are supposed to kind of grind it out will ground it out.”
As they showed in last season’s series at the LIC, the Rebels often rub the Flames the wrong way.
“We started a bit of a rivalry with them last year,” Albers said. “It’s always good. We love great competition, and it will be a good weekend. Hopefully, we’ll end up running into them again at nationals.”
He said the Flames will defend their home ice, where they have posted a 10-2 record so far this season, with all due vigilance.
“Obviously, as warriors for Christ it’s important that we show that we’re not pushovers, and that we’re tough men as well,” Albers said, noting that “We Fight” is the team’s theme this season. “We’re fighting every weekend, regardless of win or lose. We’re fighting for the Lord first and foremost, and we’re fighting for the university and we’re fighting for a national championship. At the end of the day, we want to bring people to Christ. That’s the goal.”
Scouting Preview Games 22-23: No. 4 UNLV (13-5, 13-2 ACHA DI) at No. 5 Liberty (13-8), Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 11:59 p.m. at the LaHaye Ice Center. Both games will be streamed live on ESPN+.
All-time series: Tied at 3-3 after the Rebels won three of four meetings last season, beating the Flames in the championship game of the Chicago Classic, again in a “Midnight Mayhem” rematch at the LaHaye Ice Center in January, and finally in the ACHA DI National Championship quarterfinals last March. In the first game against the Rebels at the LIC last season, Liberty snapped UNLV’s 16-game winning streak with a 7-4 victory.
Liberty Scouting Report: The Flames feature balanced scoring with five players boasting 20 points or more, led by junior forwards Jacob Kalandyk (13 goals, 12 assists) and Jason Foltz (13g, 11A) and senior forwards Josh Fricks (6G, 18A) and Jackson Vercellono (9G, 14A), with both recording two game-winners, one fewer than junior forward Truett Olson’s three.
Between the pipes, Liberty has four goalies to draw from with the addition of Jackson Glassford, who made his Flames debut in the second game last weekend, a 5-2 defeat. He and fellow freshman Scott Bird could challenge for more playing time behind seniors Hunter Virostek (9-5, 3.08 goals-against average, 91.5 save percentage) and Cédric Le Sieur (3-1, 1.85 GAA, 93.7 SP, 1 shutout).
UNLV Scouting Report: Since being swept by Liberty on their home ice in mid-November, the Rebels have won six in a row, opening the spring semester with a 4-2, 5-0 sweep of Arizona in Tempe, Ariz. UNLV’s attack is sparked by forwards Cole Wyatt (6G, 19A), Nicolas Flanders (7G, including 3 game-winners, 10A), Bradley Golant (8G, 8A), Azzaro Tinling (7G, 9A), and defenseman Alec Johnson (9G, 6A).
In goal, the Rebels have relied on Landon Pavlisin (6-1, 2.14 GAA, 93.2 SP, 1 SO).and Zach Wickson (5-1, 2.3 GAA, 91.1 SP, 1 SO) with backup from Vince Benedetto (2-0, 1.50 GAA, 93.6 SP).
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 511-207-29. Anthony Vignieri Greener is in his eighth season at the helm at UNLV, also his former team. He led the Rebels to the ACHA DII National Championships before transitioning the team to DI in 2017-18 and guiding them to nationals for the second time last season, reaching the semifinals for the first time.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer